Transgender Bill Advances

Neena Satija PhotoNew Haven is on its way to including transgendered people in its non-discrimination laws.

Six aldermen voted Tuesday night to include specific protections in the city’s non-discrimination ordinances relating to gender identity or expression.

After hearing testimony from 10 people, the Legislation Committee, chaired by Hill Alderman Jorge Perez, agreed unanimously to propose new language to the full Board of Aldermen: to include specific protections in the city’s non-discrimination ordinances relating to gender identity or expression.

“Do you believe that all residents should be treated fairly and equally by the laws of our city? I do,” said East Rock Alderman Matt Smith, Yale Alderman Michael Jones and East Rock’s Justin Elicker.

The committee heard from transgender students and reverends, as well as friends and family of people who identify as transgender.

One of the most affecting testimonies came from Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, a not-for-profit that works with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens.

“If it’s not explicitly included, it’s explicitly excluded,” McHaelen (pictured at the top of the story) said of language protecting people from discrimination based on their gender identity or expression. Such language, she argued, is particularly important for schools and social service agencies. 

McHaelen spoke of one girl with whom her agency has worked named Chantal, who was born male and identified as female. Cast out by family, Chantal went into a foster home as a gay boy, for fear that her foster parents wouldn’t accept her otherwise. Every morning, she would leave home dressed as a boy and change at a nearby gas station.

Chantal eventually moved out of her foster home but ended up at a school far less accepting than her old one—so she simply stopped going to school.

“Without the law, there’s no way to compel schools to support the gender identity of their children,” McHaelen argued.

Newallhalville Alderman Charlie Blango had some questions.

“Why are we handling this if state law is already passed?” he asked, referring to the Connecticut General Assembly’s passage of a similar state law this summer. “Sometimes we just duplicate things.”

“It just makes it easier for someone who experiences discrimination in the city to challenge it,” said Alderman Jones, noting that someone could try to argue that they only need to comply with city law and not state law.

Smith added that when he, Jones, and Elicker submitted the amended language in March, a similar bill hadn’t been passed at the state level yet—in fact, it hadn’t even come to a vote in previous years.

The city and state laws also have a subtle, but arguably important, difference. State law requires people who believe they have been discriminated against due to their gender identity or expression to actually prove that they identify a certain way. In other words, if people believe they were fired simply because they identify as a transgender, they would have to prove that they are transgender.

New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar, who also testified at the meeting, called that portion of the state law “an unfortunate thing to codify.”

He said he’s glad it wasn’t included in the language submitted for New Haven specifically.

Since the state did in fact pass a similar law this past summer, the city’s new law will simply be a way of syncing with the state, Smith said after the meeting.

“I guess this was a bit of a plan B,” said Smith of the language that was submitted in March. “If it didn’t happen at the state, then we can make some noise here in New Haven. Now, this is more about clarification.”

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posted by: Emily on October 12, 2011  11:45am

This is great progress on an issue who’s time has come! Thanks to everyone who came out and spoke before the Committee, this is truly important work. I’ll be following this as it moves to the Board!

posted by: roger huzendubel on October 12, 2011  12:28pm

Its great that they are looking out for the little people but i think we have so many more issues to get past and this is not one of them. When you focus on such a small injustice like this you are allowing bigger ones to go unchecked. Matt Smith and Mike jONES have got to go (I think they are) . New Haven residents should come together and OCCUPY THE BOARD OF ALDERMEN to get our city some respect in hartford. this is my opinion and you can attack me from thinking differently from you all day.

posted by: Franorama World on October 12, 2011  1:41pm

As one of the so-called “little people,” it warms my heart to see that New Haven is taking the initiative—and going a step further than the state’s new law.

As long as ANY group is discriminated against for the way they’re born, then we’re not the America we’re supposed to be. There are, true, many problems—not issues, problems—in this country. But ignorance-based discrimination still is one of them. No matter how “little” a problem some think it is.

posted by: law making 101 on October 12, 2011  2:14pm

Its great when law makers make comments like:

“It just makes it easier for someone who experiences discrimination in the city to challenge it,” said Alderman Jones, noting that someone could try to argue that they only need to comply with city law and not state law.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if something is a state law, does that not supersede the municipal law. So, that any municipality can only further add to a law, but not relax a standard already set by the state. Just wondering, thought I had picked that up in PSC 101.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 12, 2011  2:47pm

Maybe I’ll take my outfit out of the box, and apply for that Cultural Affairs position, now. 

http://guiltyone1.tripod.com/lmmu.html

posted by: Mike Jones on October 12, 2011  3:28pm

It’s my understanding that the quote that you mentioned is at least partly in reference to the omitted clause in the state’s definition of gender identity or expression. Including an expanded definition here—as a result of that omission—relaxes the standard established in the state law and thus makes the process both easier and more clear for those who claim that they have been discriminated against by the City or one of its contractors.

If you have any actual questions about what this does though, you’re more than welcome to write or give me a call.

posted by: anna on October 12, 2011  6:22pm

@roger huzendubel

“Its great that they are looking out for the little people but i think we have so many more issues to get past and this is not one of them. When you focus on such a small injustice like this you are allowing bigger ones to go unchecked. “

No. When you allow small injustices to go unchecked, THAT is what allows for bigger ones. And I would argue that this is not really small, just because it does not impact you, does not mean it is small.

posted by: HhE on October 12, 2011  9:43pm

Good, I am glad this passed.  (strait, WASP, 16th generation American, male, and all that.)

I’m not going to bother attacking you roger huzendubel, but I will disagree.  Nopw I have been mistaken for being gay, but I have no idea what it really like to live with the bigotry, hate, and danger that many have.  You are right there are many pressing issues, but this is not a little one.  I don’t know Mike Jones, but Matt Smith is an incredible Alderman, and I shall miss having him on the BoA.  (indeed, I yell at him every time I see him, “Matt, what the heck?  You lost.  This sucks.  You are one of the best.”