Berkshire Eagle Editorial Page
November 18, 2011
Overdue civil rights win
Passage of a bill on Beacon Hill Thursday protecting the rights of transgender citizens is a civil rights victory and a tribute to the legislation’s persistent advocate state Senator Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat. Motivated by the concerns of a constituent, Mr. Downing first co-sponsored the legislation three sessions ago, and worked with allies to overcome dubious objections and send the bill to Governor Patrick, who is expected to sign it.
Massachusetts will be the 17th state to pass such a law, which in this instance prohibits employers, educational institutions and housing providers from discriminating against anyone based on their gender identity. According to a 2009 transgender discrimination survey, the transgendered experience double the unemployment rate of the general population and experience nearly universal harassment on the job. Senator Downing estimates that the state spends about $3 million annually on benefits for transgender residents who can’t find jobs, so if this discrimination ends or is at least curtailed, the state will save money on benefit payments.
Critics of the bill raised concerns about a breakdown of privacy in rest rooms and locker rooms even though that is not a problem in the 16 states that passed similar legislation. Public accommodations language had to be dropped from the legislation to ease the concerns of these opponents and get the bill passed, but the legislation was not harmed significantly and the greater good of extending civil rights protections was accomplished. Massachusetts has continued its tradition of standing up for the civil rights of all.