The Massachusetts House and the Senate have approved legislation extending civil rights and hate crimes protections to the state’s approximately 33,000 transgender residents.
The Transgender Equal Rights Bill adds protections to the state’s civil rights laws against discrimination in employment, housing, education, and credit based on gender identity or expression. The bill also expands the state’s hate crimes protections to include transgender people.
“The Massachusetts legislature today recognized that transgender residents should be treated equally and protected under the law,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The Transgender Equal Rights Bill has languished for years, but today the Legislature sent a clear message of fairness and equality.”
The state House passed the legislation without any amendments on Tuesday night and state Senate passed the bill on Wednesday morning.
Gov. Deval Patrick has already pledged to sign the bill into law, which means Massachusetts will become the 16th state to have enacted non-discrimination protections for transgender people. In February, Patrick issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination against transgender state employees.
A report released in February found that 76 percent of transgender people in Massachusetts have been harassed on the job because of their gender identity and 20 percent have lost their job because of their gender identity. Additionally, 17 percent of transgender residents have been denied housing because of their gender identity.
Although LGBT rights groups and activists praised the legislation, they also criticized the absence of protections within public accommodations, which were included in the original version of the bill.
“This is an historic first step,” said Jennifer Levi, director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders’ Transgender Rights Project. “But make no mistake — we need complete protections for transgender people, including in public accommodations. In the coming months, our coalition will continue to work with the legislature and educate them on the critical need to protect transgender people from discrimination in public spaces like buses, restaurants, and movie theaters.”
A survey released in early November found that Americans overwhelmingly supported equal rights for transgender people. Three out of four Americans said Congress should pass employment nondiscrimination laws that protect transgender people, and support for the legislation cut across party and religious lines.
Fifteen states, the District of Columbia, and 136 cities and towns around the country have passed laws and ordinances protecting transgender people from discrimination. But there is currently no federal law that prohibits all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Photo credit: Jaymi Heimbuch