Boston – This morning the Massachusetts Senate, under the leadership of State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield), endorsed legislation extending protections for transgender citizens by adding the term “gender identity” to the state’s non-discrimination law in matters related to employment, education, housing and credit, as well as to the Commonwealth’s hate crimes law.
This action makes Massachusetts the sixteenth state to join the District of Columbia and 136 municipalities nationwide with laws and ordinances protecting transgender people from discrimination.
“This bill is about making sure that our anti-discrimination and civil rights laws protect all victims,” said Downing. “For too long the 33,000 transgender residents in Massachusetts have gone without these protections. Thanks to this step that will no longer be the case.”
H. 3810, An Act relative to gender identity, is a redraft of legislation (S. 764 and H. 502) filed by Downing with his colleagues State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D- Boston), State Representatives Carl Sciortino, Jr. (D- Somerville) and Bryon Rushing (D- Boston). It was released by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with a favorable recommendation. In a nod to concerns held by the bill’s opponents, the legislation does not address public accommodations.
“We are deeply grateful to our champions in the House and Senate, State Representatives Carl Sciortino and Byron Rushing and State Senators Ben Downing and Sonia Chang-Diaz. Likewise, we are truly thankful for Gov. Deval Patrick’s tremendous leadership on this issue,” said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality. “This bill would not have passed were it not for their unwavering belief that all residents of Massachusetts, including transgender people, should be treated fairly and equally under the laws of our state.”
The legislation defines “gender identity” to mean a person's gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth. It also stipulates that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.
“Today, our state took a major step forward in providing essential civil rights protections for transgender residents of the Commonwealth,” said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Political Coalition. “This law will make a tangible difference in the lives of thousands of people across the state who need jobs, a safe place to live and a quality education.”
A February 2011 report found that 76 percent of transgender people in Massachusetts have been harassed on the job because of their gender identity; 20 percent have lost their job because of their gender identity; and 17 percent have been denied a promotion because they are transgender.
Seventeen percent of transgender residents have been denied housing because of their gender identity, and 10 percent of transgender residents have been homeless because they could not find work. Fifteen percent of transgender people make $10,000 or less in annual household income while only three percent of the general population makes $10,000 or less in annual household income.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts spends at least $3 million annually on public benefits for transgender residents who are eligible to work but can’t find a job because of their gender identity.
H. 3810 was passed by the House of Representatives last night, by a vote of 95-58. The legislation requires final enactment by both the House and Senate before it is forwarded to the Governor’s desk. These actions are expected to occur today. Governor Patrick is on record as a vocal proponent of the legislation; he previously pledged to sign the bill into law.