Maine Legislature Upholds Protections for Transgender People; House Passes Anti-Bullying Legislation

Late Tuesday, the Maine House of Representatives voted to reject a bill (LD 1046) that would have removed protections for transgender people from the Maine Human Rights Act.  On Wednesday, the Senate voted to do the same.  Wednesday was further significant in that the House also passed anti-bullying legislation (LD 1237) aimed at making Maine's schools safer learning environments for all students. LD 1237 - the Anti-Bullying Bill - now heads to the Senate for their consideration.  If passed, the bill would, for the first time in Maine, define bullying and proactively attempt to prevent it from happening. Had LD 1046 passed, public institutions (including schools) and businesses would have been allowed to discriminate against transgender people with no legal repercussions. Fortunately, lawmakers in both chambers of Maine's Legislature did not allow this to happen.  In the House of Representatives, the bill failed on a vote of 61-81 Tuesday night; the next day, just 11 senators supported passing the measure, compared to 23 who voted to keep the existing laws in place. "We do not need a consensus approach to human rights," said Rep. Emily Cain (D-Orono).  "And at the end of the day, passing this bill in any form...would be a step backward for Maine." The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport) in light of a 2009 ruling by the Maine Human Rights Commission that found the Orono School District discriminated against a transgender girl by not allowing her appropriate access to accommodations. As we have underscored time and again on GLAAD Blog, transgender people face an enormous amount of discrimination just as they seek the very basic things that one must have in order to live, let alone thrive: a job, a roof over their head, access to public accommodations, etc. (For more information on the prevalence of discrimination within the transgender community, please see the report “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” released earlier this year by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).) With this in mind, a growing number of states are recognizing the need to include gender identity or expression in statewide non-discrimination laws.  Currently 14 states (including Maine), along with the District of Columbia, provide protections based on gender identity or expression.  Less than one week ago, the Connecticut Legislature voted to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations based on gender identity and expression.  Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) has pledged to sign the legislation into law, and thus Connecticut is poised to become the 15th state in the country to legally prohibit discrimination against transgender people. As the trend is moving in the direction of non-discrimination laws being inclusive of transgender people, Maine most definitely would have moved backward in time had LD 1046 passed. "This bill would have opened the door for blatant discrimination against Maine's transgender community," said Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, the statewide LGBT-advocacy organization.  "The defeat of this bill by a strong, bipartisan majority of legislators in Augusta is a major victory for the LGBT community and our allies." Though we are pleased to report LD 1046 did not succeed in the House or Senate, we regret to report that much of the debate and subsequent media coverage focused on the wrong issue.  To be clear, the name of the bill is LD 1046.  No other name is appropriate for referring to a bill that's ultimately concerned with whether transgender people are protected against discrimination in the places they must enter in order to sustain their lives: workplaces, homes, public accommodations.  Unfortunately, those lawmakers who disapprove of these very basic protections (protections they already have, wouldn't want to lose and perhaps take for granted) masqueraded their discriminatory attitudes in language that carefully attempted to elicit fear in people - lawmakers as well as the general public.  This was unwarranted, because never have any of their claims manifested in any of the 13 states, along with the District of Columbia, that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. In spite of this, the Maine Legislature voted to uphold the protections their state law has in place for transgender people.  For their unwavering support, the Legislature is to be commended.  Our colleagues at EqualityMaine, a very special 13-year-old transgender girl and her family are also to be commended, as are the countless others who've been working tirelessly to ensure the defeat of LD 1046 and the passage of LD 1237.  Indeed, the people of Maine have much to be proud of today, the core of which is the message the state is sending: that all people are to be treated equally, with dignity and respect.