Time to get moving on public accommodations
This Sunday, on July 1, 2012, the Transgender Equal Rights Bill will take effect. For the first time in the state’s history, transgender residents will be included in the state’s civil rights laws.
This is momentous. There are only, by best estimates, about 33,000 transgender residents in the state. But when we protect them and their families, we make the state safer for everyone, because as a society, we are only as strong as our most vulnerable neighbors.
The need for these protections is great. A February, 2011 report found that 76 percent of transgender people in Massachusetts have been harassed on the job because of their gender identity; 20 percent have lost their job because of their gender identity; and 17 percent have been denied a promotion because they are transgender.
Seventeen percent of transgender residents have been denied housing because of their gender identity, and 10 percent of transgender residents have been homeless because they cannot find work. Fifteen percent of transgender people make $10,000 or less in annual household income; only three percent of the general population makes $10,000 or less in annual household income.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts spends at least $3 million annually on public benefits for transgender residents who are eligible to work but can’t find a job because of their gender identity.
When this law takes effect, Massachusetts will finally join the ranks of 15 other states, the District of Columbia, and 136 cities and towns around the country in protecting transgender people in the arena of employment, housing, education, credit, and hate crimes. It’s about time that every hardworking resident of the state, including transgender people have the opportunity to make a living, put a roof over their heads, and get an education without fear of being discriminated against simply because of who they are.
And yet while this is an historic piece of civil rights legislation, it is far from perfect.
The bill does not include public accommodation protections. In plain language, that means that the bill does not protect transgender people in public spaces such at subways, hotel lobbies, gas stations, coffee shops, and hospitals. In fact, the law creates the very odd situation by which Starbucks is not permitted to fire its transgender barista but is within its rights to refuse service to a transgender customer.
This, of course, is intolerable.
We fully expect that the coalition that forged passage of this bill will work to rectify that situation. And we support those efforts.
Meanwhile, let’s take a moment this Sunday to mark the truly historic occasion of the implementation of the first piece of civil rights legislation passed in Massachusetts in at least 20 years.