Transgender Bill on the Move, Chairman Sees House Vote This Week

By Kyle Cheney

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 14, 2011..A legislative committee has begun polling its members on a long-stalled bill to include transgender residents in the state’s non-discrimination laws, setting up a vote in the House this week, according to a top deputy to Speaker Robert DeLeo.

The Judiciary Committee issued a poll Monday afternoon to its 17 members, and committee co-chair Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea) said he anticipates the bill reaching the floor for a vote before midnight Wednesday, when the Legislature begins a seven-week recess.

The proposal, he said, is a redrafted version of a bill that would have also required “sex-segregated facilities, accommodations, resorts and amusements” to grant transgender residents access, based on their preferred “gender identity.”

“We are going to present it as an anti-discrimination piece of legislation. It does not deal with what the other 15 states that have similar legislation have to deal with, which is a protracted and sometimes very painful and emotional debate on public accommodations and the like,” he said. “We’re dealing exclusively with ending discrimination relative to transgenders and providing them hate crime protection.”

As redrafted, the bill would include transgender residents as a “protected class” in the state’s hate crime laws, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in jobs, housing, insurance, mortgage loans and credit. Gender identity would be defined as “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,” according to a summary of the redrafted proposal obtained by the News Service.

Members of the Judiciary Committee have until 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to respond to the poll.

Gov. Deval Patrick and Speaker DeLeo have voiced support for the bill previously, and DeLeo cosponsored a version of the proposal last session. Three weeks after becoming speaker in 2009, DeLeo attended a “Gayla” thrown by MassEquality at the Roxy nightclub in Boston at which supporters praised him for supporting transgender protections. Patrick defended his support of the bill during his 2010 reelection campaign in which his chief opponent, Republican Charles Baker, embraced opponents’ arguments against the proposal.

Opponents of the legislation have derided it as the “bathroom bill,” suggesting that it would be an invitation to sexual predators to pose as transgender residents to prey on victims in women’s bathrooms. Backers have rejected this criticism as unfounded.

Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) ripped his colleagues’ plans to take up the bill this week, contending that it is a diversion from legislation to create jobs, boost the business climate and protect public safety. Lombardo plans to hold a press conference Tuesday morning outside the House chamber to decry efforts to “ram through special interest legislation.”

“The last minute push to bring the Transgender Bathroom Bill to the floor reinforces that too many legislators are working behind closed doors with special interests and allowing the urgent needs of the people in my district and in communities all over the Commonwealth to go unmet and unserved,” he said in a statement.

Lombardo told the News Service that the changes made to the bill, including removing language relative to public accommodations, did not mollify his concerns.

“It has different implications now. In fact, in some regards it makes it even scarier because it puts every aspect of life in jeopardy of being taken to court when dealing with transgender issues,” he said. “It opens up the floodgates.”

Supports of the bill, including MassEquality and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, are planning their own press conference at 4:30 p.m. Monday outside the House chamber.

Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford), who sponsored the original legislation, called the long-awaited movement on the bill welcome progress.

“I applaud the chairman for moving the bill forward and am hopeful we can get a favorable report. This is an important civil rights bill. It is critical for people who need protection in employment and housing and other areas of their lives,” Sciortino said in a phone interview. “It’s not a perfect bill, and certainly the public accommodations piece we need to do more work on, and we will continue to work on that, but the bill is a really important civil rights protection. I think it’s important that we move this bill forward.”

Joining Sciortino at the press conference will be Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston); Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition; Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality; Gavi Wolf, legislative council for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; Jen Springer of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Maureen Gallagher of Jane Doe Inc.,. and the parents of a transgender child.

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