New 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.”