Transgender Rights Bill receives more support, extended deadline

by Hannah Clay Wareham

Bay Windows

Friday May 14, 2010

Amid resolutions and commendations, hopes are high for bill to pass.

Support for "An Act Relative to Gender-based Discrimination and Hate Crimes" (S. 1687/H. 1728), known as the Transgender Civil Rights Bill, is growing in Boston. The City Council last week passed a unanimous resolution backing the bill and joined the Episcopal Diocese of Masscahusetts in publicly voicing their support. The Transgender Rights Bill will remain under consideration by the Judiciary Committee for at least another month.

Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), said that the organization "is grateful for the continued support of the Boston City Council and hopes that our state leaders will follow this wise example and extend civil rights to our state's transgender citizens."

The Transgender Civil Rights Bill offers crucial employment protections for transgender people and outlaw anti-transgender workplace discrimination. If the bill is passed, the category of "gender identity and expression" will be added to the Massachusetts hate crime, employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and public education non-discrimination laws.

The legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary on May 6 extended the bill's deadline, giving it at least another month to remain under consideration. The original deadline required that the bill be reported out of committee by May 7.

"As they say on 'Monty Python,' we're not dead yet," DeeDee Edmondson, political director of MassEquality, said. "The Judiciary Committee and our coalition [of organizations working together to pass the bill] now can get down to the business of producing a piece of legislation that can put transgender people back to work and bring stability and dignity to families throughout the Commonwealth."

The Boston City Council passed a resolution in support of the Transgender Rights Bill on May 5, sponsored by Councilor Ayanna Pressley and co-sponsored by Councilor John R. Connolly. "The crass political demagoguery of our transgender friends and neighbors needs to end and I urge the Legislature to take action on this important piece of legislation as soon as possible," Pressley said. "Bigotry and intolerance have no place in our society and it is unfathomable that Massachusetts, long a bastion of individual rights and liberties, would allow any class of its citizens to live in fear of harassment or reprisals."

The resolution referred to a survey administered by the National Center for Transgender Rights and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, which found that 97 percent of transgender people reported being harassed or mistreated in the workplace. The same survey revealed that 26 percent of people had lost their jobs because of their gender identity or expression.

"This is not only an LGBT issue, it is a human rights issue and I hope that the State Legislature acts soon in order to protect the rights of our neighbors, friends, and co-workers," Connolly said. "The Boston City Council has repeatedly stood in support of transgender rights and I know that we will continue to support the rights of all Bostonians."

The Boston City Council similarly passed a unanimous ordinance in 2002 protecting transgender people from discrimination.

"We appreciate the Boston City Council for recognizing the importance of protecting transgender people from discrimination and violence at the state level as well as the local level," said Scott Gortikov, the executive director of MassEquality. "We hope that the legislature will soon follow their lead and pass the Transgender Civil Rights Bill to ensure that all people in the Commonwealth receive equal treatment."

On April 30, Episcopal Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy "Bud" Cederholm of the Diocese of Massachusetts sent letters to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo urging the lawmakers to pass the Transgender Rights Bill. Attached were resolutions stating the full support of both the Episcopal Diocese of Masschusetts and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

"As bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, our eyes are open to the realities of transgender people and their families," Shaw and Cederholm wrote in the letter, which was subsequently printed by "Many of them serve faithfully in the congregations and ministries of our diocese, as lay people, as deacons, and as priests. They are dedicated and loving parents, children, siblings, friends, and community leaders."

The letter encouraged lawmakers to act quickly in passing the bill. "Adding gender identity and expression to the state's nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws is no isolated concern of a special interest group," the letter read. "The disproportionate suffering of transgender people should grieve the hearts of all who love justice and liberty."

The Transgender Rights Bill received an intensified focus from a wide variety of mainstream media outlets after Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker pledged on Saturday, April 17, that he would veto the bill if elected.

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