So a guy with a handlebar mustache walks in to a bridal store and wants to try on a dress. That was just one of the awkward scenarios discussed at length during a Judiciary Committee public hearing on a measure concerning gender discrimination Monday.
The bill, backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, would amend state statutes regarding discrimination to include transgender individuals. The language of the bill attempts to do this by protecting someone’s “gender identity or expression.” But the deceptively simple idea had some lawmakers struggling to understand just what the ramifications of such an amendment would be.
The added section defines gender identity or expression as “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.”
That led to a lot of theoretical questions, most revolving around hypothetical scenarios playing out in bathrooms and changing rooms. That’s where the mustached bride trying on wedding gowns came in. Just what are his or her rights? What are the rights of the shop owner who may wish to kick him or her out?
These are some the questions the committee pondered but Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, the bill’s author, said the measure comes down to a far simpler question: do you or do you not want to discriminate against these people?
Holder-Winfield found himself at odds with Family Institute of Connecticut President Peter Wolfgang, who opposed the measure on the grounds that, among other things, the measure would force public schools to accept transgender teachers.
“This would mean that a person’s son or daughter could be exposed to teachers in their schools who one day will be a man and the next day could decide to be a woman and that would be protected,” he said in written testimony. “Under this bill your child could be forced to learn that their teacher, say Mr. Jones, has now become Mrs. Jones—and that this is perfectly normal.”
But according to Gay and Lesbian Alliance Transgender Rights Director Jennifer L. Levi, who’s also a lawyer, protecting the jobs of transgender people is one of the reasons the bill is needed. She cited the story of Dana Rivers, an award-winning teacher in California whose job was terminated for being transgender.
Failing to protect transgender people from discrimination could also lead to some severe consequences, she said. As an example she referenced a case in Washington D.C. where EMS personnel stopped treating a transgender person when they found she had male genitalia.
She also cited the case of Brandon Teena, who was the subject of the 1999 movie “Boys Don’t Cry.” Teena was assaulted and raped when a group of men learned he was biologically female. Police in the Nebraska town where he lived delayed prosecuting the attackers, who later murdered Teena, Levi said.
But Levi was also asked to weigh in on the touchy bathroom scenario and she said that as a transgender person it’s something she deals with on a daily basis.
“My presence in a women’s bathroom has been questioned,” she said. “It already happens all the time.”
So while she could be ejected from using a men’s bathroom if someone raised an objection, she also faces questions walking into a women’s restroom.
As lawmakers finished questioning Levi, many took the opportunity to make statements rather than ask anything. Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport, likened the bill to an extension of the same civil rights battle blacks have been fighting for decades. He noted that discrimination is a matter of preference, which is allowed, until it impedes the rights of someone else.
“All these people want to do is have other people recognize them as they see themselves,” he said. “If other people don’t see it that way then I don’t know when the hell we’re going to cure discrimination as a whole.”
However, during his testimony, Wolfgang also expressed concerns that the law would make stalking victims easier for sexual offenders.
“Nothing would prevent a male sexual predator from pretending he is confused about his sex to gain access to a women’s bathroom or join a female-only fitness club,” he said.
But when asked about the scenario, Stamford attorney Rachel Goldberg said lawmakers seem to be looking for situations that don’t happen.
“What you’re doing is trying to find a rule for something that doesn’t happen,” Goldberg said.