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Saturday, January 15, 2005

DC Trans Community Considers New Legislation

by darby
12 Jan 2005 Modified: 13 Jan 2005

On the heels of a legislative victory in Illinois, members of DC transgender communities and allies gathered to discuss possible changes to the District’s human rights code to more explicitly protect transgender people from discrimination.

On Tuesday the Illinois state House of Representatives followed the footsteps of the Illinois Senate in approving a new bill to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents of the state from discrimination. The law, which bans discrimination based on sexual discrimination, defines that term more broadly than past laws have, to include gender identity. Illinois joins 13 other states and the District in banning discrimination for sexual orientation, but makes only the fifth state to protect all residents regardless of gender identity or expression. According to the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Minnesota and California as well as over 60 cities and counties prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

The meeting Tuesday night in DC was to address that issue locally, where the current human rights code of 1977 is thought to cover transgender people under “personal appearance,” but many transgender activists are concerned it isn’t explicit enough. When local transgender leader Jessica Xavier asked the room how many transgender people present had been discriminated against on the job, two thirds of those present raised their hands.

Although City Councilmembers David Catania [At-Large] and Jim Graham [Ward 1] have drafted legislation to change the human rights code, some LGBT activists are concerned the new law would be overturned by the US Congress, which has oversight over all District laws. “Not only does it make no strategic sense to push the legislation in question at present,” wrote Rick Rosendall, Vice President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance during an email exchange on the subject, “and not only would it be likely to backfire… but it wouldn't even solve the problem.” If Congress rejected the amendment, the argument goes, then courts would be less likely to read “personal appearance” as protecting transgender people.

Jeff Light, one person who worked with Councilmember Graham on the legislation, said “I think this legislation, including protections for bathroom access, homeless shelters, and hate crimes, would be a major step forward for not only the trans community, but for anyone experiencing gender-motivated discrimination or violence,” in response to Rosendall’s email. During the meeting, one participant asked whether it made more sense to push for the bill or try to conduct an education campaign regarding transgender issues and human rights in DC. “We need both the education and the bill,” said Earline Budd, a prominent transgender activist in the District who was party to two lawsuits which resulted in rulings that interpreted the phrase “personal appearance” to protect transgender people. “When the human rights code was written in 1977, there wasn’t this language of gender identity and expression,” noted Kenda Kirby, a former employed of the DC Emergency Services who filed complaints concerning gender-based discrimination against the agency last year. Last week in Maryland, a gay Delegate to the state legislature, Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), said that adding gender identity and expression to a bill expanding categories of hate crimes would be “a step too far for many.”

The group of over 30 transgenders and allies gathered Tuesday night seemed to be developing a consensus in favor of pushing for an amendment to the human rights code. Irena Tran, a proponent of the new bill, said that whatever the decision, it should be made by those affected by the results. “The only people who really know what is best for the transgender community are transgender people themselves,” she said.


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