During its public hearing earlier this month, I was moved beyond belief to see all the excellent arguments and testimony put forward in support of H.B. 6599, which would add gender identity and expression to Connecticut’s anti-discrimination statutes. I wasn’t able to be there to add my voice to the chorus, sometimes life gets in the way, but as I watched and read through the testimony I thought, I really don’t have a lot to add to this, I pretty much feel the same way, yes, yes.
It’s a good bill, and I’m glad that it has the support of many members of the committee, the governor and others who care about equality and fairness statewide. Transgender and gender-variant people aren’t very well understood, and face a mountain of discrimination and oppression from a society that alternately treats us like lepers or the punchline to a joke.
And yes, I am a transgender woman myself. I was lucky in a lot of ways; my employers reacted with laudable compassion and understanding when I transitioned, and I’ve faced relatively little harassment or overt discrimination. I am well aware that my experience is not typical, however, I know too many people who lose jobs, face sneering harassment, are barred from certain public places or refused service, and on and on, simply because they are who they are. This is absolutely, obviously unfair, and that’s why I support this bill.
The bill was due to be voted on by the members of the Judiciary committee Wednesday, but the committee ran out of time and had to postpone the vote until next week. In the course of that postponement, I was disappointed to learn that my state senator, Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield), is planning on introducing amendments to the bill that are designed to make it, as Kissel himself stated, more palatable to wavering members of the committee and the legislature. Sen. Kissel has been a supporter of this bill in the past, including when it passed the Judiciary committee in 2009 only to die in the House, and I understand his desire to compromise and build consensus for this bill. However, I believe that the amendments he’s offering are ultimately both bad ideas.
One of the amendments, which increases penalties for people posing as transgender to commit crimes, addresses the always-controversial bathroom issue. This is which is the wedge used by certain social conservative groups to try and stop bills like this. Their argument goes, men are dressing up as women, going into bathrooms and committing assaults. This is a non-issue; it just doesn’t happen! The danger of this amendment, though, is that it legitimizes this argument, and feeds into that fear.
The other amendment, which would allow local boards of education to temporarily transfer transitioning teachers in elementary schools to another position, is actually a lot more problematic. The argument here is that children are adversely affected and confused when a teacher transitions, but again, this is not necessarily an argument based in fact and actual events. In fact, when the evidence is examined, it’s the parents far more than the children who have any problems understanding or adjusting to a transgender teacher. Sen. Kissel acknowledges this, but I question whether it’s reasonable and just to reinforce and enable discrimination in order to make parents feel more comfortable with someone who is different. This amendment is a clear acknowledgment that, in some way, transgender people are bad for elementary age children, and the state of Connecticut should not be sending that message.
The ultimate issue I have with these amendments is that they are harmful to transgender people without necessarily convincing opponents to support the broader bill. Rep. Al Adinolfi (R-Cheshire) isn’t moved by them one bit, and won’t vote for the bill even if the amendments pass. Before the meeting, he stated that he thought the bill was “…[D]iscriminatory against my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. I don’t want them exposed to that.” For those who think that the truth of my life and the lives of people like me is so odd and freakish that they want to keep their kids away from us, even the most reasonable arguments won’t sway them.
I urge the fair-minded Sen. Kissel to rethink these amendments, and I hope the Judiciary committee, and eventually the legislature as a whole, passes this bill in its unmodified form.
Note: If you are interested in learning more about transgender people, here is an excellent resource.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife, and cats.