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Gender Identity Bill Headed To Governor’s Desk

by Christine Stuart and Hugh McQuaid | Jun 4, 2011 12:45am
(5) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: State Budget, State Capitol

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford

Early Saturday morning,  the Senate gave final passage to a measure that makes it illegal to discriminate against people based their gender identity and expression.

The bill passed 20 to 16.

As has been the case through most of the bill’s journey through the legislative process, much of the debate revolved around hypothetical situations involving bathrooms.

Following a failed amendment that would have protected someone who denied another person access to a bathroom, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, grew frustrated with the rhetoric. She asked Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, if he had ever been in a woman’s bathroom.

He answered “no,” but Bye pointed out that if he had, it would not have been illegal. There is no law governing who uses what bathroom, she said. 

“It’s an absolute shame that this has been called the ‘Bathroom Bill,” said Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester.

But Sen. Len Suzio, R-Wallingford, said bathroom culture has evolved over time in part to protect women and children from sexual predators. He said also that opponents of the measure are not bigots, they simply support the common sense practices and customs set forth by their forefathers.

Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said that while opponents say they did not intend to be mean-spirited, that was not the conclusion he reached based on their testimony.

“My conclusion is that in all the years I’ve served in this legislature, I’ve never seen a degree of mean-spiritedness that I see in connection with this bill,” he said

Coleman said is a tremendous disservice to the people who testified to the committee about their situation and the plight, only to have it reduced to whether or not they can use a certain restroom.  Coleman said the testimony he heard persuaded him that it was a sincere and necessary issue.

“It’s not, in my estimation, a big deal to provide the protection that they’re seeking. In my estimation that’s what the state of Connecticut should be about — making sure that every single individual in this state is not deprived of an opportunity to live out life in a fulfilled way,” he said.

Bye said that as a gay woman she has experienced firsthand having to choose between a job and her orientation. But she pointed out that that particular situation was in the past. Such an ultimatum is now illegal because of previous action by the Connecticut legislature, she said.

Bye became emotional when she spoke of an information session held at her church during which some transgender people helped the congregation understand their position.

During the session a young man asked what would have happened to the speakers if they had not been allowed to transition, she said.

Through tears, Bye said their answers were chilling. “Every single one of them said, ‘I’d be dead. I would be dead if I couldn’t be the gender I am — if I couldn’t be who I am,” she said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, appealed to undecided colleagues to support the measure. He told the story of a friend, Dick Raskind, who transitioned into Renee Richards. Richards went on to become a professional female tennis player.

“To send Renee Richards into a men’s bathroom — that would be really dangerous because Renee is a woman,” Meyer said.

The bill will now move to the desk of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who issued a statement lauding its passage minutes after the Senate vote.

“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. 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. Connecticut has led the way in other civil rights issues and I’m proud to be able to support and sign this bill,” he said.

It’s been a long seven years, but there were hugs all around for the handful of proponents in the Senate gallery Saturday morning.

Christine Stuart photo Jerimarie Liesegang, director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, said Connecticut is a good state with good legislators. She said she respects differences and was disappointed when a small minority sought to invoke discussions about bathrooms when that’s not what the bill was about.

“This is about discrimination. It’s not about bathrooms,”  Liesegang said. “It’s about my being employed.”

Liesegang said she had difficulty keeping her job during her transition because there were a handful of people who still needed to be educated. Once they were educated she said none of them could understand how she was different if someone on the outside of the company pointed it out.

She said this bill doesn’t eliminate discrimination, but it makes it illegal.

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(5) Comments

posted by: JusticeCT | June 4, 2011  9:32am

This is a great step forward for all people.  When we remove barriers to people achieving their potential and contributing to society, we all benefit.  Thank you proponents!  Shame on narrowminded opponents—“you’re livin’ in the past ..” - hendrix.

posted by: Derek Williams | June 4, 2011  11:34am

It is pleasing to see this legislation pass, albeit by so narrow a majority.  Public debate about such issues always leads to greater understanding and knowledge in the community.  It is to be hoped this process will continue in a positive way long after the signing of this bill into law.

posted by: Tessa Marquis | June 6, 2011  9:25am

Yay. Just Yay.

posted by: Christienne | June 6, 2011  11:10am

Throughout the course of the ongoing “culture wars”, the narrative as expounded by the religious Right has been fairly consistent; that liberals in general and the LGBT community in particular are standing astride America’s secular path to decline, decadence, and depravity; that liberals and the LGBT community specifically are the cause of all of society’s ills; and that anyone who does not oppose the so-called “Gay Agenda” is directly targeting people of faith.

That these presuppositions cannot be definitively proven did not seem to be an issue for those who opposed HB 6599, “An Act Concerning Discrimination”. Opponents of this legislation, specifically the Family Institute of Connecticut, had dubbed this significant piece of civil rights legislation a “Bathroom Bill”. That there have been no documented instances of a man dressing as a woman and entering a woman’s restroom for the purpose of committing a sexual assault against a woman, as the Family Institute of Connecticut had posed, was completely irrelevant to their position. That similar legislation exists in 14 other jurisdictions was not germane to their inept rhetoric.

Unable to produce an intelligent, fact-based argument in opposition to this legislation, the FIC could only resort to lies. To summarize, the efforts of the FIC failed not because of a “push by Governor Malloy” as they claim, but because their politics of fear and victimization could not withstand a cursory examination of facts.

There are four elements to a successful fear appeal:
1) A threat,
2) A specific recommendation about how the audience should behave,
3) Audience perception that the recommendation will be effective in addressing the threat, and
4) Audience perception that they are capable of performing the recommended behavior.

When fear appeals do not include all four of these elements, they are likely to fail. When confronted with persuasive messages that capitalize on our fear, rational people asked the following questions:

Is the entity or source exaggerating the fear or threat in order to obtain my support?

How legitimate is the fear that the speaker is provoking?

Will performing the recommended action actually reduce the supposed threat?

When viewed dispassionately, what are the merits of the speaker’s proposal?

Arguments in opposition to this legislation were greatly exaggerated. Fears raised were illegitimate. Denying a transgendered person basic civil rights would in no way diminish what was illustrated to be the perceived threat. The validity of denying the transgender community individual basic civil rights held no quarter, and conflating a transgender individual with sexual predation was nothing less than absolute bigotry.

Epic fail FIC, by all intelligent criteria.

posted by: Derek Williams | June 6, 2011  1:54pm

@Christienne

Well said, and I do mean, well said!

Thank you.