Lawmakers urged to pass transgender discrimination bill

By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service / June 24, 2011

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Transgender residents pushed lawmakers yesterday to pass a bill to include them in the state’s antidiscrimination laws, continuing a fight they have waged for five years.

During a rally at the State House, members of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition spoke about the backlash and hardships they face at work, at school and in housing. They called on lawmakers to debate their proposal.

“We are here to urge our Legislature to move this bill out of committee and to the floor for a vote,’’ said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. “We know all too well the devastation discrimination causes to our lives.’’

Despite support from Governor Deval Patrick and more than half the House and Senate signing on as cosponsors, the bill failed to emerge from the Judiciary Committee last session. The committee held a hearing this month on the bills, which have fewer cosponsors this session. Earlier this month, Patrick issued a statement urging “prompt passage’’ of transgender nondiscrimination legislation.

Opponents of the bill refer to it as the “bathroom bill’’ and assert that it will open the door for transgender people to use opposite sex bathrooms.

Those at the rally said all they are asking for is basic human rights.

“It is all about jobs. It is all about housing,’’ said Eva Kraus, who decided to live openly as a woman in 2008.

After she revealed she was a transgender person she was asked to leave her high-level finance job and has been unable to find a job since 2010. Kraus, from Marlborough, said she has gone from making several hundred thousand dollars a year to living off unemployment compensation and relying on state health insurance.

She has sent out more than 3,000 resumes, and when she does get an interview, inevitably, the employer always says, “We have found someone more qualified,’’ Kraus said.

“We want this legislation to protect us from the most overt forms of discrimination. It would allow us to compete on a level playing field,’’ she said. “If Massachusetts already had a law on the books I would not live in fear of never working again.’’

The transgender equal rights bill would add “gender identity and expression’’ to existing civil rights laws, which prohibits discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, and marital status in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit. Nationwide, 15 states have passed laws specifying protections for transgender individuals in antidiscrimination laws, including New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine, and Connecticut.

State Senator Benjamin Downing, Democrat of Pittsfield, who sponsored the bill along with state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Democrat of Jamaica Plain, told the group to “put a face on the piece of legislation.’’ After the rally, they lobbied legislators in their offices.

“Speak from your heart, and we will get this bill passed,’’ Downing said. “And the next time we get together here it will be to celebrate the signing of this bill.’’