Mass., NH and RI lawmakers debate transgender rights bills

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 10, 2009

Amid the hoopla over the Iowa Supreme Court decision and marriage legislation in Vermont, activists in several New England states have been lobbying lawmakers to add transgender-specific protections to existing non-discrimination bills.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 188-187 on Wednesday to pass House Bill 415, which would add gender identity and gender expression protections to the state's anti-discrimination and hate crime statutes. The bill now goes before the state Senate.

"We applaud the New Hampshire's House of Representatives for voting to update existing anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws to include protections for gender identity or expression," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said.

Across the border in Massachusetts, Reps. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford) and Byron Rushing (D-Boston) have reintroduced House Bill 1728. State Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) followed suit in the state Senate.

More than 300 people gathered on Beacon Hill on Tuesday to lobby legislators to support the bill. The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition organized the effort.

"It was well organized and went very smoothly, thanks in part to the many volunteers from Join The Impact who helped out," MTPC chair Nancy Nangeroni said. "Many legislators stopped by, and the halls of the state house echoed with our applause and cheers."

An MTPC report found 6.3 percent of all hate crimes in the Commonwealth from 2002 through 2006 were committed against transgender people. A 2006 survey found less than 25 percent of trans women in the Boston area had full-time employment while only 20 percent worked part-time. The same survey found 55 percent of trans people surveyed have been homeless at some point.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia currently ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. More than 100 counties across the country and Boston, Cambridge and Northampton and nearly a 100 other cities have enacted similar policies.

Rhode Island lawmakers held a hearing on Tuesday to debate a bill that would amend their state's hate crime statutes. And similar legislation is before Maryland legislators.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.