We Can Learn from Massachusetts

What the Transgender Equal Rights Bill really means for the LGBT community

Members of MTCP show their Pride (courtesy of MTCP)

As the Transgender Equal Rights Bill took effect this week just seven months after Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed it into law, we wanted to take a hard look at what it really means for the LGBT community in a state like Massachusetts and other states – like PA – where LGBT protections are lacking. “I sign this bill as a matter of conscience; people should be able to come before their government as equals,” the governor said at the time.

While Pennsylvania is one of the blue states most lagging behind places like Massachusetts that not only offer same-sex marriage rights, but also protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and now transgender citizens (and tax payers!), we can certainly learn a thing or two about why these protections are critical for the community in the long run.

The new Massachusetts bill bans discrimination in everything from employment and housing to education and lending, according to The Boston Globe. The bill also allows crimes against transgender people to be prosecuted as hate crimes. It’s the first time in the state’s history that transgender residents will be included in the statute. Massachusetts joins 15 other states and the District of Columbia in extending these critical protections.

For transgender Americans, laws like these are critical when it comes down to many of the rights others of us can and do sometimes take for granted – like not being fired from one’s job simply because of one’s gender identity. Here at home, gay and lesbian employees – like transgender folks – are not protected in the workplace. It’s perfectly legal to terminate someone for being LGBT. But in states like Massachusetts, we can learn that not only do these protections make good civil rights sense, but they make economic sense, too, especially if you consider that almost 60 percent of successful Fortune 500 companies protect transgender workers from discrimination. And even more – almost 90 percent – include some form of protection for sexual orientation.

And while this new law certainly had its share of opponents – conservative groups blasted the governor for supporting transgender rights – supporters of the bill have come out in significant numbers to tell us why a law like this is so important in 2012, a presidential election year.

“This law is an important step toward eradicating discrimination in our Commonwealth and extending equal protections to all citizens,” says Attorney General Martha Coakley. “Transgender individuals are frequently targets of bias-motivated crimes and this law will help to ensure that people cannot be discriminated against based on their gender identity or expression.”

The pitfall of this bill? It doesn’t protect transgender people in public accommodations, like hotels, restaurants, hospitals and public transportation – also critical areas of life and work.

“This law includes essential protections for transgender youth, adults, and families and is a life-changing piece of legislation,” says Kara Suffredini, Esq., executive director of MassEquality. “Its passage is historic and we are thrilled with the political support that made passage of this act possible. And while we pause today to celebrate, tomorrow we continue our advocacy and education about the need for the vital public accommodations protections that are missing. We are looking forward to working with the Governor and lawmakers in fully implementing this historic law and getting public accommodations provisions passed that will also protect transgender people from discrimination in public places like restaurants, grocery stores, trains and buses, and other places where daily life is routinely conducted.”

State Rep. Carl Sciortino, a lead sponsor of the new law, adds, “The implementation of this law is going to make an immediate difference in the lives of the state’s transgender residents, who desperately need anti-discrimination protections in housing and employment. I have been so moved by the courage of constituents who’ve shared their stories with lawmakers and shown the critical need for these civil rights protections, and I look forward to working on the next piece of legislation that will fully protect transgender residents.”

Pennsylvania, what are we waiting for? Isn’t it time for PA to legislate protections for all of its tax-paying citizens?