Transgendered rights

The time to act is now
By EDITORIAL  |  September 28, 2011

A bill to extend basic legal protections to transgendered people in Massachusetts has languished for years on Beacon Hill. It is time to stop stalling: the legislature should move immediately to approve it.There is currently a tremendous window of opportunity. The distraction of the casino debate — a ready excuse for delaying uncomfortable legislation — is about to end at last. In a few more months, we'll be into an election year, when lawmakers are loath to take controversial votes. If transgendered equality is to happen, now is the time.

The merits of the bill are clear: under current law, nothing legally prevents businesses or property owners from discriminating against people purely on the basis of their gender identification. The pending legislation would extend basic public-accommodations and housing protections that already cover race, gender, religion, disability, and sexual orientation.

The merits are so simple, so clear-cut. But nothing, it seems, will change the minds of that hearty band of hate-filled nitwits fabricating peril in restrooms — a claim that echoes racists a half-century ago warning that racial public-accommodation laws would endanger white women.

There are, unfortunately, more of these bigots on Beacon Hill than in previous years. This is a direct result of Republican gains in last year's elections.

There are also far too many Democrats who want to remain publicly uncommitted as long as they can get away with it. A laudable exception is freshman Carlos Henriquez of Roxbury, who supports the bill.

At the moment, the transgendered legislation languishes in the Judiciary Committee. It is time for the committee's co-chairs, Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Eugene O'Flaherty, to summon their legislative skill and moral courage, and steer the bill to the floors of both chambers for a vote.

It is likewise time for House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to come out and voice their strong support.

Such a move for DeLeo would be a welcome and heartwarming reaffirmation. The Winthrop Democrat won well-deserved applause when, upon assuming the speakership two years ago, he made a surprise appearance at a Mass Equality event and voiced his support for transgendered rights.

Murray, who has a commendable record on LGBT issues, needs to follow DeLeo's lead.

Together, with the already declared backing of Governor Deval Patrick, Beacon Hill leadership can present a united front behind which less-decisive legislators can rally. Already, almost 70 rank-and-file members have pledged their vote.

It is true that legislative leaders must sometimes provide cover for lawmakers who have yet to find the courage to do what decency demands. That time has come and gone. Murray and DeLeo must act.

Fifteen other states — including Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine — have already extended rights to transgendered people, as has the District of Columbia.

Nearly 100 Bay State businesses are in favor.

And more than 130 Massachusetts clergy and rabbis, including Bishop Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Church, have signed a faith declaration urging passage.

According to a study conducted by the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, 33,000 Massachusetts residents identify themselves as transgendered.

The Williams Institute found that 76 percent of those transgendered residents experienced harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination in employment. As a result of anti-transgender bias, 20 percent had lost a job, 39 percent were not hired for positions they applied for, and 17 percent were denied promotions.

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