Activists urge Mass. lawmakers to pass transgender non-discrimination bill

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 26, 2010

More than 250 transgender Bay Staters and their allies were on Beacon Hill on Jan. 21 to push for passage of a bill to ban gender-based discrimination.

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition organized the lobbying day to spur passage of H1728 in the House of Representatives and S1687 in the state Senate. If passed and signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick, the measure would make the Commonwealth the 14th state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia already have a trans-specific discrimination bill on the books. The federal government also bars discrimination against its employees. And a total of 112 cities and counties around the country have also enacted this legislation--including Boston, Cambridge, Northampton and Amherst in Massachusetts.

State Reps. Carl Sciortino [D-Middlesex] and Byron Rushing [D-Cambridge] and state Sen. Ben Downing [D-Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin] introduced the latest version of the Transgender Civil Rights Bill, which has languished on Beacon Hill since 2007.

There was no movement on the bill until a March, 2008, hearing before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in which more than 65 people testified in favor. The committee sent the bill for study the following April, but never reconsidered it. The committee held another hearing last July as EDGE reported, but did not take further action.

Lobby day participants argued the bad economy has increased the need to ban trans-specific discrimination.

"This bill needs to be a priority," Jesse Pack of AIDS Project Worcester said. "I've seen people with master's degrees turned down for entry-level retail jobs because they are visibly transgender."

Lorelei McLaughlin struggled for many years before she was finally able to find employment.

"I would walk into a place with a help wanted sign in the window, only to be told that they weren't actually hiring right now but would be happy to put my application on file," she said. "I couldn't even get anyone to look at my resume."

MassEquality and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders co-sponsored the Beacon Hill lobbying efforts.

"The transgender community has waited too long for full equality in the commonwealth," Scott Gortikov, executive director of MassEquality said.. "MassEquality is fully committed to pushing this bill through the Legislature and getting it to the governor during the 2010 session."

At least 100 of those at the lobbying day visited legislators and 124 lawmakers attended the event, according to Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition Executive Director Gunner Scott.

"It is now up to leadership," Scott told EDGE in a Jan. 22 phone interview about the chances for passage. "We are doing everything we can from our end."

One reason he remains optimistic is the measure wouldn't cost the Commonwealth any money. "It may even save money because people don't have to depend on the state because they are unemployed" through discrimination.

Scott said the next step is to follow up with legislators' questions, set up additional appointments with constituents and conduct trainings on how to write op-ed and letters to the editor.

The organization also will continue to meet monthly with its partners--the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Civil Liberties Union's Massachusetts chapter and the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Bar Association, in addition to GLAD and MassEquality.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].