Massachusetts will become the 16th state to treat transgender citizens as a protected class after legislature passed the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, which not only adds protections to the state's civil rights laws against employment, education, housing and credit discrimination, but also adds gender identity and expression to the state's hate crimes law.
As the Associated Press is reporting, the bill, which still needs routine final approval votes in both branches, was approved by the Senate Wednesday morning on a voice vote. The House passed the bill late Tuesday after Democratic leaders moved to limit debate to one hour, effectively cutting down on opponents' amendments.
After it receives final approval votes in both branches, the bill will move forward to Governor Deval Patrick, who told The Boston Globe yesterday that he plans to sign it. "I think we have hate crimes on the books today," he said. "They, in the case of transgender people, don't go far enough.”
The measure had been heavily criticized by House Republicans, many of whom objected to a public accommodations section pertaining to single-gender facilities like rest rooms and locker rooms, which was ultimately dropped two days before the vote, the AP notes.
Among those who praised the bill was Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "The Massachusetts legislature today recognized that transgender residents should be treated equally and protected under the law,” he is quoted as saying in a statement. “The Transgender Equal Rights Bill has languished for years, but today the Legislature sent a clear message of fairness and equality.”
Added Gavi Wolfe, legislative counsel, for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts: "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, and we urge the legislature to pass it right away."
In other transgender community news, U.S. Housing And Urban Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also became the first sitting cabinet secretary to pledge support of marriage equality, delivered a keynote speech at the National Center For Transgender Equality's awards ceremony on Tuesday. "I'm proud to work for the President who signed the first federal civil rights legislation that includes the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" into law," he told the crowd.