Monday, October 24, 2005

Maine gay rights referendum includes protections for transgender citizens

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From the Washington Blade: Transgender rights at stake in Maine referendum Gender identity or expression protected in new law AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) | Oct 24, 7:56 PM If voters in November keep the state's gay rights law, Maine would be the seventh state to bar discrimination against transgender people as well as gays and lesbians. Maine voters will decide Nov. 8 whether Maine law should bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, credit, housing, public accommodations or education. The law defines sexual orientation as "a person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression." The inclusion of "gender identity or expression" means the law protects Mainers who have changed sex, as well as those who see themselves as belonging to the other gender but have not actually changed. Supporters of the Maine law say it is important to include transgender people because a law that bans discrimination against gays and lesbians without protecting transsexuals and others is not comprehensive and makes arbitrary distinctions. Marty Hagglund of Farmingdale, who underwent a sex-change operation in 1998 to become a woman, said most voters don't know what transgender means or how the law would help transgender people such as her. "On a scale of one to 10, this (language) is a 20" in importance to transgender people, Hagglund said. "We're being discriminated against. It's for real. It's not a figment of our imaginations." Opponents say it is problematic to include transgender people in the law. They predict, for example, that a job applicant who gets hired as a man and shows up for work dressed as a woman will be legally protected. So will a man who dresses as a woman and insists on using a women's restroom, they say. "You can't legally define" actual or perceived gender identity or expression, so "the whole thing is a can of worms," said Tim Russell of the Christian Civic League of Maine, which is fighting the law. Protecting transgender people is nothing less than "redefining the norms on a global scale," said Paul Madore of the Maine Grassroots Coalition, which opposes the law. The Legislature passed the gay rights law earlier this year, but opponents collected enough signatures to force a statewide vote on the issue. Wisconsin was the first state to adopt a gay rights law in 1982, but it wasn't until 1993 that Minnesota became the first state to outlaw discrimination based not only on sexual orientation but also on gender identity, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Rhode Island followed suit in 2001 when it added "gender identity" safeguards to its laws. New Mexico and California did the same in 2003, followed by Hawaii, Illinois and Maine in 2005. The District of Columbia has a similar law. Officials in Minnesota and Rhode Island, where laws protecting transgender people have been in place the longest, report relatively few discrimination complaints based on gender identity or expression. In Minnesota, the state received 40 discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation in 2004, and only four of those involved charges of transgender discrimination. Rhode Island has received only two transgender discrimination complaints since the law was enacted, and the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights did not find probable cause in either case, according to Michael Evora, the commission's executive director. Original Source: