By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut has moved closer to adding transgendered people to the list of classes of citizens protected from discrimination.
The Senate passed a gender identity protection bill on June 4 on a 20-16 vote. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives, and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he would sign it into law.
“This bill is another step forward in the fight for equal rights for all of Connecticut’s citizens, and it’s the right thing to do,” he said in a written statement issued shortly after the vote was taken. “It’s difficult enough for people who are grappling with the issue of their gender identity, and discrimination against them has no place in our society.”
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said the bill codifies a ruling by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities that made it illegal to discriminate against transgendered people. People with gender identity issues have repeatedly asked the General Assembly to include the protections in state law, saying they’ve experienced discrimination with employment, housing and other matters.
“These are things that get in the way of real people living their lives fully,” said Bye, adding how 13 other states provide similar protections.
As was the case in last month’s lengthy debate in the House of Representatives, some Republicans raised concerns about restroom usage, whether a man could misuse the transgender law to enter a women’s restroom. The Family Institute, a conservative group that dubbed the legislation “the bathroom bill,” has questioned whether sex offenders could misuse the law.
GOP efforts to amend the bill, such as exempting restrooms, locker rooms and boarding houses from the law, each failed.
Some Democrats said it was offensive to the people who’ve asked lawmakers for the legal protections to refer to the legislation as “the bathroom bill.” Longtime Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said he had never seen the degree of “mean-spiritedness” before that he has seen regarding this bill.
Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, who supported the amendments, said it was unfair to suggest that people who question the transgender rights bill are bigots. He said they simply respect the customs and practices of the forefathers.
“We should not jettison them and throw them overboard,” he said.
At times, senators brought up personal experiences to make their points during the late-night debate.
Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, told the story of his lifelong friend Richard Raskind, who later became Renee Richards, a former professional tennis player who underwent sex reassignment surgery and made headlines for challenging the U.S. Tennis Association’s decision not to allow her to enter the 1976 U.S. Open. The New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor.
“The change was really remarkable. It was totally genuine,” said Meyer, adding how his friend not only physically became a woman but looks like a woman and thinks like a woman.
“To send Renee Richards into a men’s bathroom, that would be very dangerous, very dangerous, because Renee is a woman,” he said with a chuckle, adding how it would be “utter discrimination” to prevent her from using a women’s restroom.
“I want you to think about Dick Raskind and Renee Richards and what it means to change your gender,” Meyer said. “It’s a real change. This is not someone who has put on women’s clothes. This is a real change. We’re talking about substance.”