Massachusetts Legislature Passes Transgender Equal Rights Bill; Important Work Remains

Today the Commonwealth of Massachusetts continues its longstanding tradition of promoting equality by passing the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. The bill, which protects Massachusetts transgender residents from discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit, as well as hate crime violence, passed in the House yesterday, 95-58. Today the Senate unanimously approved the measure.  Gov. Deval Patrick (D) submitted written testimony in support of the bill and is expected to sign the legislation into law once it reaches his desk.  Once he does, Massachusetts law will provide vital protections to the state’s approximately 33,000 transgender residents, and Massachusetts will join 15 other states and Washington, D.C., in prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

“This bill includes essential protections for transgender residents, who are not currently protected in any areas of the Commonwealth’s civil rights laws,” says Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

Rebekah Gewirtz, director of government relations and political action for the National Association of Social Workers of Massachusetts, speaks to the importance of the initiative: “This bill will give basic civil rights protections to transgender people, who suffer disproportionately from discrimination and violence.  No one should be denied a job or have to live in fear for their safety simply because of who they are.”

Thankfully, Gewirtz’s sentiments were shared by state representatives Carl Sciortino and Byron Rushing, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty, who steadily advocated for the passing of the measure in the Massachusetts State House.  Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, praised these leaders saying, “We are deeply grateful to our champions in the House…who spoke out passionately and forcefully on behalf of their transgender constituents.”   These individuals, along with all of the representatives that supported the bill, chose to stand in support of equality and fairness for all citizens of the Bay State.

Today Senate members joined in passing this historic bill with remarkably no senators speaking against the legislation. Because of lawmakers’ dedication to the welfare of the people of Massachusetts, transgender residents will be protected against discrimination when they seek employment, housing, education or credit.  Gender identity and expression will also be added to current hate crimes law.

The importance of this legislation – and the impact it will have – cannot be overstated.  According to a February 2011 report, 76 percent of Massachusetts transgender residents have been harassed on the job because of their gender identity, while 17 percent have been denied housing.

“This bill is about giving transgender people an equal shot at obtaining everyday basics we all need — a job, a place to live, an education.  It's a major step forward for fairness…” explained Gavi Wolfe, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Today’s passage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill comes on the heels of a February 2011 executive order, signed by Gov. Patrick, that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression for Massachusetts state workers. The February measure was a noteworthy victory, but pointed to the need for protections for all of Massachusetts’ transgender residents, not only state workers.  Pending Gov. Patrick’s signature, today’s legislative action marks the historic extension of vital protections to transgender residents statewide. 

To be clear, the Transgender Equal Rights Bill is not perfect. The current bill does not include protections within public accommodations. Jennifer Levi, director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, highlights this setback but remains optimistic about today’s success: “We want complete protections for transgender people – including in public accommodations – but also know that in order to get there, we cannot walk away from the legislature’s first step toward achieving those full protections.” Today’s legislative decision is a clear start to full transgender equality.

GLAAD has supported the work of the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition* in a number of ways, the most significant of which was procuring free PSAs to raise awareness of the need to protect the state's transgender community. These have been airing on Boston’s top-rated KISS 108 since September.

In addition, GLAAD has continuously monitored the media coverage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. When necessary, GLAAD’s Media Field Strategy team has conducted outreach to journalists to correct problematic coverage, ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive reporting of the transgender community in Massachusetts media.

GLAAD applauds the Massachusetts Legislature for voting to provide vital protections to the state’s transgender residents.  At the same time, we offer heartfelt congratulations to our colleagues at the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition*.  Many of those who make up the Coalition have been working tirelessly, for years, to bring today’s historic victory to fruition.  Today their hard work has paid off in a big way that will make a tangible, positive difference in the lives of the state’s transgender residents.

*Members of the coalition include MassNOW; ACLU of Massachusetts; Jane Doe, Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence; National Association of Social Workers, MA; Mass AFL-CIO; Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders; Mass Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus; Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition; and MassEquality.

GLAAD Senior Media Field Strategist Justin Ward contributed to this post.