Massachusetts passes Transgender Equal Rights Bill
Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 01:11
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Nov. 23 signed into law a bill which will protect transgender individuals from discrimination in education, housing, employment and credit. The bill also modified the state's hate crime laws to protect transgender individuals.
The bill was first introduced in the state legislature in 2007 but has not come up for a vote until this year, according to Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality.
The Joint Committee on the Judiciary, a committee composed of members of the House and Senate, handled the bill before passing it for a vote in the House, Suffredini told the Daily.
Massachusetts State Representatives Byron Rushing (D−Boston) and Carl Sciortino (D−Medford, LA '00) sponsored the bill in the Massachusetts House, where the bill passed 95−58 on Nov. 15. State Senators Ben Downing (D−Pittsfield) and Sonia Chung−Diaz (D−Jamaica Plain) sponsored the bill in the Massachusetts Senate, where it passed on Nov. 16 by a voice vote.
"I'm really proud to be in a state where, once again, we are supporting equality for all," Sciortino told the Daily.
In previous years, the committee had sent the bill for study, meaning that the legislature and community required more education on the topic before a vote, Suffredini said. During that time, advocacy groups worked to educate the public about transgender issues and the bill.
People who are transgender or gender non−conforming experience much higher levels of discrimination and harassment than people who are not, according to a study released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force this February.
Forty−seven percent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination in employment because of their transgender or gender non−conforming identity, and 26 percent of respondents had lost a job for the same reason.
This year was the right time to put the bill up for vote, according to Suffredini.
"Lawmakers and the public as a whole have come to know transgender people a lot better over the past five years while we've been doing this education," she said.
Four cities — Boston, Cambridge, Amherst and Northampton — had already passed similar anti−discrimination laws to benefit the transgender community before the passage of this bill.
Massachusetts joins a number of states and cities in passing a transgender equal rights bill, as well as a number of Massachusetts employers that have already adopted a similar policy toward gender identity and expression, according to a fact sheet released by the Massachusetts Political Transgender Coalition (MPTC).
The bill, however, did not pass without contention. House Republicans reportedly expressed concern that the bill would harm small businesses by driving customers away from facilities that employed transgender workers.
"It opens the door for social change that would take away the rights of hardworking men and women and parents," State Rep. Marc Lombardo (R−Billerica), told the Associated Press in a Nov. 15 article.
"It's unfortunately an issue that has caused a partisan difference but at the end of the day, I don't think discrimination or hate crimes should be a party issue," Sciortino said.
The committee removed a portion of the bill forbidding discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations — including but not limited to hotels, public restrooms and restaurants — before passing it to the House for a vote, Suffredini said.
Much of the discussion surrounding public accommodations focused on public restrooms, with critics arguing that its inclusion in the bill would pose a safety risk.
"It's a victory for the safety, privacy and modesty of women and children who expect to be safe and secure in public bathrooms in the commonwealth," Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, told the New American in a Nov. 18 article.
Advocacy groups will work with lawmakers and the public about discrimination in public accommodations over the next year, Suffredini said.
"It's my commitment and the advocates' commitment to continue to work on this to make sure we address public accommodations in the future," Sciortino said.
The advocacy groups will then introduce a bill to lawmakers outlawing discrimination against transgender individuals in public places in January, Suffredini said.
Tufts students contributed to the effort to pass the bill, according to sophomore Megan Berkowitz, the external outreach coordinator for the Interfaith Social Action Group.
Berkowitz and another student from the Interfaith Social Action Group met with MassEquality last spring, she said. The two students worked at the MassEquality phone bank, calling Massachusetts' registered voters to educate them on the bill and encourage them to call their representatives in support of the bill, she added.
"It's just a way to let the congresspeople know that their constituents supported the bill," she said.
The group also created an on−campus phone bank last spring for the same purpose, in which approximately eight students participated, according to Berkowitz.
Berkowitz and two other students worked at the MassEquality phone bank the evening the bill came up for a vote in the House, Berkowitz said.
"We had something of a sense of urgency because it was the night it was being discussed in the House," Berkowitz said. "We were able to tell people, it's really important to call tonight because this is something that's happening right now."
Tufts had already followed a policy of non−discrimination toward transgender individuals before the bill was passed, according to facts released by the MPTC.