Push for Transgender Protection Grows in New England

By Kelsey Abbruzzese | April 9, 2009

For Ethan St. Pierre, allowing someone who is biologically female but self-identifies as male to use the men’s bathroom is a no-brainer.

“Look at me,” said St. Pierre, who was born a woman but is now a transgender man with a beard and short hair. “I don’t want to get hurt by some woman who thinks I’m in the ladies’ room for the wrong reasons. I mean, clearly I don’t belong there.”

St. Pierre, of Haverhill, was one of hundreds of advocates at a Tuesday rally supporting a bill that would add “gender identity and expression” to Massachusetts’ discrimination and hate crimes laws. He said having this legislation would have protected him from being fired in 2003 from his job as a security supervisor because he became a man.

But opponents of the measure have deemed it “a bathroom bill,” saying it would lead to a breakdown in privacy and public safety in rest rooms, locker rooms, showers and other single-sex facilities. They contend the law would open women’s bathrooms to sexual predators.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said women and children in Colorado, where a similar measure has passed, have begun to fear for their safety in bathrooms.

“Are we going to have to have the bathroom police to check everybody of a different gender that goes into the women’s room?” Mineau said. “We certainly are against discrimination of any members of society, but that’s not the issue here.”

Massachusetts is the latest state to consider banning discrimination because of transgender status. New Hampshire voted down legislation because of the fear that transgender people could use any bathroom but is reconsidering its bill Wednesday. In Connecticut, a bill to protect transgender people from discrimination died in a legislative committee last week, but activists and some lawmakers want it added as an amendment to other legislation.

Thirteen states prohibit discrimination against people based on whether they identify themselves as male or female and how they express that choice in their attire, names, work and social lives.

More than 100 towns, cities and counties nationwide also have anti-discrimination ordinances based on gender identity and expression.

In Connecticut, several lawmakers joined the activists Tuesday to say they will keep pushing their colleagues to support a bill that would include “gender identity and expression” as a protected characteristic along with race, national origin, sex and other characteristics in current laws.

Tony Ferraiolo, who was born female and started his transition to male in 2005, said it would not only help people like him but also would benefit businesses because workers perform their best when they are comfortable and free from potential discrimination and harassment.

“We’re not asking for special privileges. We’re only asking to be protected just as others in Connecticut are protected,” said Ferraiolo, of New Haven.

Massachusetts Rep. Carl Sciortino, D-Medford, said legal protection is long overdue because of high discrimination rates in the transgender community. He and other supporters said nothing in the bill diminishes laws regarding criminal conduct in bathrooms.

“This legislation guarantees equality and civil rights and in no way condones or allows or legalizes illegal behavior,” he said.

St. Pierre agreed.

“It’s never stopped perverts from going into bathrooms before because it says ‘female.’ You don’t see a guy or woman stopping at the sign and saying, ‘Oh, I can’t go in there,”‘ St. Pierre said, adding there hasn’t been any reported instance of a transgender person attacking someone in a restroom. “I don’t know what the big to-do is — it’s just fear-mongering.”

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