Jennifer Levi [Director of Transgender Rights Project, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders]: "Recently, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill that adds the phrase "gender identity or expression" to all existing state sex discrimination laws. The Senate's passage followed that of the House of Representatives where the debate had been much lengthier. Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged his support for this legislation which should be signed into law any day now. Governor Malloy's signature will make Connecticut the 15th state to adopt transgender-specific provisions into its non-discrimination laws. Adoption of the legislation is a significant step forward for the transgender community which has struggled recently in getting explicit non-discrimination laws passed in no small part because of the amped up opposition to such legislation from the right.
Minnesota passed the first transgender inclusive non-discrimination law in 1993 followed by Rhode Island in 2001. Between 2001 and 2007, an additional 11 states plus the District of Columbia passed comparable laws. Advocates working on similar state laws since 2007 have faced much more organized and targeted opposition as right wing groups have increasingly set their sights on opposing protections for transgender people. Their primary strategy has been to reframe the terms of the debate by shifting focus from civil rights protections to rhetoric focusing on bathroom protections. While this strategy gained some traction during the six years Connecticut considered passage of the bill, it was ultimately defeated as transgender advocates waged a legislator-by-legislator campaign to educate members about the vulnerability of transgender people throughout the state.
Advocates focused on high rates of unemployment and underemployment within the transgender community. A recent survey [PDF] completed by the Task Force reported that transgender individuals experience unemployment at twice the national rate. The report also found that 47 percent of participants had experienced an adverse job event, including termination, as a result of their transgender status. Those educational efforts eventually paid off as the bill was passed 77-62 in the House and 20-16 in the Senate.
The definition of the term "gender identity and expression" ultimately included in the legislation bears some mention. The law will define "gender identity or expression" to mean
a person's gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth, which gender-related identity can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person's core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.The definition was introduced as a House floor amendment with little debate or discussion about its purpose. Notably, it offers different and non-exclusive methods by which a person in the protected class can establish their gender identity including medically and non-medically based sources. The language intends to capture the various ways in which a gender-related identity may be demonstrated to be "sincerely held, part of a person's core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose." The term "or" is used in the disjunctive. At least one House member asked to amend the proposed language for the definition to change "can be shown" to "must be shown." That proposal was never even formally advanced to a vote.
In addition to protecting against discrimination based on a gender-related identity, the law will also protect against discrimination based on "appearance and behavior," as well, "regardless of whether that appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth." The bill does not list illustrative methods for demonstrating the person's appearance or behaviors. As a result of the definition, the law will provide comprehensive protections for transgender people regardless of whether or not the person undergoes gender transition and regardless of the person's stage of gender transition."
Suggested Citation: Jennifer Levi, Connecticut law offers comprehensive protection for transgender people, JURISTHotline, June 20, 2011, http://jurist.org/hotline/2011/06/jennifer-levi-transgender-discrimination.php.
This article was edited for publication by Edward SanFilippo, an associate editor for JURIST's professional commentary service. Please direct all questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org