By RANDALL CHASE
Transgender people in Delaware will soon join the list of protected classes under the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
The Senate voted 11-to-9 Wednesday to give final legislative approval to a bill adding gender identity to the list of protected nondiscrimination categories, including race, age, religion, and sexual orientation.
The legislation also allows for enhanced penalties under Delaware’s hate crimes law for targeting someone based on his or her gender identity.
Gov. Jack Markell planned to sign the bill into law Wednesday evening.
Supporters say the law is needed because transgender people can be straight or gay and are thus not protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Opponents argued that the bill is unnecessary and will lead to disturbances by men lurking in girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, then claiming to be transgender.
“I do know that there will be irate parents when this takes place,” Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, said before Wednesday’s vote.
In an effort to address such concerns, the House amended the bill this week with language stating that gender identity may be demonstrated by “consistent and uniform assertion of the gender identity or any other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity,” and that gender identity cannot be asserted “for any improper purpose.”
The amendment also emphasizes that places of public accommodation such as health clubs can provide reasonable accommodations based on gender identity in areas where disrobing is likely, such as locker rooms or other changing facilities. Those reasonable accommodations could include separate changing areas for transgender people, with supporters saying business owners could require transgender people to use those separate facilities.
But critics maintain that the language in both the amendment and the bill itself is too broad and will lead to problems down the road for business owners and others.
Nicole Theis, president of Delaware Family Policy Council, said in a statement Wednesday that the new law will infringe on the privacy rights of Delawareans, particularly women.
“The bottom line is women feel unsafe sharing restrooms, changing areas, and showers with biological males and should not be forced to do so,” she said.
“This bill is not a remedy for injustice,” Theis added. “It creates more injustices than it purports to address. We expect legislators to make policies for the common good and find solutions for the exceptions without rejecting and redefining the foundations of social order.”
The legislation is similar to laws in more than a dozen other states that afford some degree of protection to transgender people.