Boston Mulling Transgender Civil Rights Ordinance
Proposal would amend city's anti-discrimination ordinance to include gender identity, expression
[BOSTON, MA] ? The Boston City Council held a public hearing this week regarding the possibility that the city will pass an ordinance barring discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
Councilor Chuck Taylor introduced the amendment to the current anti-discrimination ordinance in July and a final vote is expected sometime this fall.
As many as 50 people showed for the Sept. 30 hearing, during which city councilors, activists and other individuals gave testimony. The discussion included testimony regarding the importance of such an ordinance and real-life stories of discrimination faced by individuals.
Boston City Councilor Michael Ross was among a number of lawmakers on hand who supports the proposed law.
"We're here to support legislation that comes down to a fundamental issue of equality and where we are in the world," said Ross, who invoked antique laws regarding prohibitions on women at the turn of the century. "These are outrageous when we step out of that time in history and I think that in 100 years we'll look back and ask why we struggled so hard with this position today."
At issue is the city ordinance based on sexual orientation ? it doesn't include protection based on gender expression or gender identity.
"This proposal extends the law pretty significantly," said Karen Loewy, a staff attorney from Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. "By adding these terms it will provide protections to anyone who is gender non-conformist."
Loewy submitted testimony on behalf of GLAD in which she addressed some of the myths and misconceptions about such laws.
"In discussing the need for protections for people who are gender non-conforming, some people express an unfounded fear that the proposed legislation will lead to an increase in cross-dressing, particularly in the workplace. Specifically, people sometimes state a fear about the law leading to protections for men in dresses in the workplace," wrote Loewy. "The notion that employers will be forced to hire men in dresses is a total red herring. As I mentioned before, for over 25 years, Minneapolis, a major metropolitan area, has protected transgender people from discrimination. Currently, nine and a half million people are protected from discrimination based on gender expression. Surely, if the concern regarding men in dresses was real, it would have surfaced by now."
She also addressed the issue of "bathroom use." "Like everyone else, transgender people deserve to use bathroom facilities with safety and dignity. ? Going to the bathroom is a private matter, in which common sense and compassion should govern. When going to the bathroom, you cannot really know what the anatomical sex is of the person in the next stall over. Permitting transgender people to use the bathroom that comports with their gender identity does not change that in any way."
According to Loewy, Massachusetts has already taken steps to shore up protections for transgendered people. While the current Boston ordinance may not provide specific protections for transgendered people or anyone who is discriminated against because of their gender identity or expression, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Discrimination has interpreted the state anti-discrimination law as protecting transgendered people under sex and disability clauses.
"Currently there are no such protections in Boston and, while the MCAD rulings are definitive, they could be overturned by the courts," said Loewy.
The proposed amendment has been engineered in large part by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. Member Cole Taylor was on hand at the hearing to speak on behalf of the organization.
"Gender identification and gender identity are characteristics that everyone has," said Taylor, adding that it is not a mistake that the proposed amendment does not mention the term "transgender."
"This ordinance is broader in scope and wouldn't cover just transgendered people. ? It would also cover the man who is fired from his job because he was too feminine," said Taylor.