Poll: 76 Percent of Mass. Voters Support Transgender Rights Bill

by Dan Meyer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 22, 2011

After eight long hours of testimony on June 8, advocates for a transgender rights bill are anxiously awaiting a decision from House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray on whether they will bring the measure to the floor.

The bill, which would gender identity and expression to Massachusetts' non-discrimination statute, has become one of the year's hottest topics on Beacon Hill. "We had approximately 45 people testify in support of the legislation on our side," said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, a spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese and representatives from Jane Doe, Inc., the National Association of Social Workers and other groups attended the hearing. Some of the 150 letters of testimony in support of the bill came from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and other Beacon Hill powerbrokers.

When asked whether he has heard anything about whether the bill will go to the floor, Scott said no. He reiterated, however, that this "is not unusual."

"The hearings are for [legislators] to learn about the issue, and so they don't general provide any kind of response," added Gunner.

A call to DeLeo's office seeking comment about the status of the bill was not immediately returned.

Due to increased media coverage of anti-LGBT hate crimes around the world and more vocal advocacy from trans rights advocates, more and more Americans believe trans individuals should be included in local, state and federal non-discrimination statutes.

Some strides have already been made.

President Barack Obama in 2009 signed a bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the federal hate crimes law. The Office of Personnel Management clarified guidelines for trans federal employees late last month.

So while they receive better legal treatment, many state and local governments have yet to provide appropriate protection their trans employees.

Hawaii and Nevada lawmakers passed trans-inclusive non-discrimination acts earlier this year, while Connecticut legislators approved a similar measure earlier this month. Massachusetts' trans activists hope the commonwealth will be the next state to enact this type of legislation.

"The federal government along with more and more state lawmakers are increasingly recognizing that giving transgender people legal protections that enable them to provide for themselves and their families helps strengthen our economy and helps strengthen our communities," said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality.

A report from the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles found that 74 percent of trans employees in Massachusetts have suffered some form of harassment while on the job. This issue goes beyond the trans employees who would see the most direct benefit.

"Not only does the Commonwealth suffer lost income tax revenue because of discrimination, but each transgender person who loses a job may become eligible for programs that will cost the state hundreds or thousands of dollars," concludes the Williams Institute.

In addition, the MTPC in collaboration with Lake Research Partners has released data that shows 76 percent of all Massachusetts voters support the trans rights bill. While only 53 percent of Republican respondents felt positively about the law, almost three-quarters of Independents indicated their support. Ninety percent of Democrats said trans people deserve legal protections.

"In sum, voters support legal protections for transgender people in Massachusetts, and they want their legislators to vote in favor of the law," states the report. "This is not a controversial issue for voters; equality, prohibiting discrimination and extending legal protections to everyone has become a core value in Massachusetts."

Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA's LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.