Update: July 6, 2016
Pleased to report that House and Senate conferees have agreed on a compromise on the relatively minor differences separating the House and Senate versions of the transgender bill. I’m very grateful for the support of the Senate President and the House Speaker for this legislation. I was very honored to be one of the conferees and to play my small part in the advancement of human rights. Looking forward hopefully to seeing the bill on the Governor’s desk as soon as tomorrow. You can view the conference report here.
Update: July 8, 2016
The Governor has signed the bill. It is the law and will take full effect on October 1.
Last week, the Senate voted 33-4 to approve legislation extending to transgender people the same protections against discrimination in public accommodations that we provide to all other minorities. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
There was hot debate over a few amendments that would have diluted the bill (none of which were adopted), but the final vote reflects the strong consensus in support of the bill — most Senators have come to know transgender people through the long fight for the bill and recognize that they have the same needs, hopes and desires that all people do.
Most people who have written to me over the past few months have written in support of the legislation and I thank them for their support. But there are also some who wrote in opposition to the legislation and I’d like to offer some thoughts here for them.
Public accommodations include hotels, hospitals, restaurants, public transportation . . . essentially all the public places you can think of. The legislation is about preventing discrimination in all those places.
Public accommodations also include sex-segregated rest rooms and locker rooms, and the legislation makes clear that transgender people should be able use to the facilities consistent with their gender identity.
Some who opposed the legislation are genuinely fearful that “grown men who are predators will now go freely into the ladies room”. This fear is entirely misplaced and could only be held be people who really have never met or spoken with a transgender person.
Transgender women are not men with wigs – they are women whose birth body doesn’t match their true inner gender identity. They are not likely predators. In fact, sadly, all too often they are the victims of predators. The testimony that we received in the Judiciary Committee was that there have been no reported incidents of abuse by predators of transgender anti-discrimination laws in the many other states and localities that already have them. Further, our criminal laws already provide adequate tools for prosecution of people who misbehave in rest rooms.
Others opposed to the legislation express privacy concerns – “why should a man be allowed in the ladies room to embarrass the ladies?” Again, this concern reflects a lack of direct contact with transgender people. A transgender woman is a woman for all behavioral purposes.
The last kind of objection I’ve heard from people is uncharitable – “why should we be making 99% of the people uncomfortable to accommodate such a small minority.” Polling suggests that at this point, a growing majority of cisgender people are comfortable with transgender people. But more importantly, America is all about protecting its minorities – our constitutional commitment to protecting minorities is what keeps us from splintering as a country. The “discomfort” that some people may feel with transgender people pales compared to the daily discrimination that transgender people face.
At the end of the day, the practical considerations are very clear. The idea that a transgender woman should use the men’s locker room is absurd – it would subject them to humiliation and very real risks. The alternative, that they should have to go in special facilities just for them is unacceptable – it would make them second class citizens. The final alternative, that we turn all restrooms and changing facilities into single-user uni-sex facilities, is not at all feasible.
The approach we have taken is right, simple and consistent with American fundamental values. It will, in a few years, become completely ordinary, as it should be.