The anti-discrimination movement has been active since the 1960s — but for transgendered Americans, the ball has just recently begun to roll. And on Friday, it found its way to Hartford, hoping not to be kicked out like last year.
At the Connecticut Judiciary Committee on Friday, the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, the Anti-Defamation League and citizens who identified themselves as victims of transgender discrimination testified in support of a bill that would add “gender identity or expression” to the state’s existing protections against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion and age. Last year, the bill passed the House but never passed the Senate to become law.
Although Yale gay, lesbian and transgender rights activists said the community of transgendered students at the University is virtually nonexistent — approximately four students and faculty members combined — they cheered the proposal, which they said was overdue and a step in the direction of drawing transgendered students from the woodwork. But some other students said the bill should be stopped in its tracks because it might act as an enabling force for transsexual behavior and sex-change operations.
“A clear expression by the legislature incorporating this concept of gender identity and expression, we believe, is an added level of protection, and it also sends a clear societal message,” said David Waren, director of the Connecticut office of the Anti-Defamation League, who testified on Friday. “If anybody in society is endangered, we all are.”
Anna Wipfler ’09, coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative, said she thinks the law is “definitely needed.”
“No, it’s not okay to harass people who are transgender, so symbolically and practically, it’s really important,” she said. “Discrimination based on gender non-normativity is one of the largest problems I’ve been hearing about, and legislation is a key place to start, although it’s not going to solve everything. Offering people who deal with that harassment on a daily basis some kind of recourse is really critical.”
State courts and agencies have, in the past, upheld claims of discrimination against transgendered individuals, but it has not before been codified in state law. The Connecticut Constitution, rivaled only by the New Jersey Constitution, gives a great degree of protection to all types of minority groups. But transgender cases have been interpreted widely, sometimes being dismissed because there is no explicit law against, for instance, not hiring someone because he or she is transsexual or of ambiguous gender from birth.
But Joe Hathaway ’09 said he thinks the legislature should take no further steps than it already has to protect the transgendered community. Unless a transgendered person is being physically assaulted or intimidated, Hathaway said, he thinks affording them extra protections is unnecessary.
Helen Rittelmeyer ’08 said the bill was a “bad idea.”
“I am sympathetic to transgendered individuals and the turmoil that leads them to seeking operations in the way that they do, but I feel that putting some kind of legal stamp of approval on being transgendered is a bad idea,” she said. “I think the best way to help people is not to enable these people to change their gender, but to help them be happy with the gender that they are.”
In his testimony before the legislature, Warren acknowledged the existing strong protections that exist for other groups in the state, but he said that since 34 percent of the country’s population live in areas with transgender anti-discrimination laws, more protection is needed in Connecticut.
“Discrimination based on one’s gender identity or expression … is as pernicious as discrimination based on those categories explicitly prohibited by current law such as race, sex and religion, and should receive equal and unambiguous protection under the law,” he said.
Also testifying was Jerimarie Liesegang, who said that although she has a doctoral degree in chemistry, she has been turned away from job after job.
“Simply because I am a transsexual woman,” she said. “I was not hearing back from anyone.”
Yale added gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination policy in September. But Wipfler said the debate on campus should not be over.
“We also have to address why Yale is apparently so unappealing to trans-students,” she said.
The Co-op is sponsoring the fourth annual Trans Issues Week this week.