Early Saturday morning, the Senate gave final passage to a measure that makes it illegal to discriminate against people based their gender identity and expression.
The bill passed 20 to 16.
As has been the case through most of the bill’s journey through the legislative process, much of the debate revolved around hypothetical situations involving bathrooms.
Following a failed amendment that would have protected someone who denied another person access to a bathroom, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, grew frustrated with the rhetoric. She asked Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, if he had ever been in a woman’s bathroom.
He answered “no,” but Bye pointed out that if he had, it would not have been illegal. There is no law governing who uses what bathroom, she said.
“It’s an absolute shame that this has been called the ‘Bathroom Bill,” said Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester.
But Sen. Len Suzio, R-Wallingford, said bathroom culture has evolved over time in part to protect women and children from sexual predators. He said also that opponents of the measure are not bigots, they simply support the common sense practices and customs set forth by their forefathers.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said that while opponents say they did not intend to be mean-spirited, that was not the conclusion he reached based on their testimony.
“My conclusion is that in all the years I’ve served in this legislature, I’ve never seen a degree of mean-spiritedness that I see in connection with this bill,” he said
Coleman said is a tremendous disservice to the people who testified to the committee about their situation and the plight, only to have it reduced to whether or not they can use a certain restroom. Coleman said the testimony he heard persuaded him that it was a sincere and necessary issue.
“It’s not, in my estimation, a big deal to provide the protection that they’re seeking. In my estimation that’s what the state of Connecticut should be about — making sure that every single individual in this state is not deprived of an opportunity to live out life in a fulfilled way,” he said.
Bye said that as a gay woman she has experienced firsthand having to choose between a job and her orientation. But she pointed out that that particular situation was in the past. Such an ultimatum is now illegal because of previous action by the Connecticut legislature, she said.
Bye became emotional when she spoke of an information session held at her church during which some transgender people helped the congregation understand their position.
During the session a young man asked what would have happened to the speakers if they had not been allowed to transition, she said.
Through tears, Bye said their answers were chilling. “Every single one of them said, ‘I’d be dead. I would be dead if I couldn’t be the gender I am — if I couldn’t be who I am,” she said.
Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, appealed to undecided colleagues to support the measure. He told the story of a friend, Dick Raskind, who transitioned into Renee Richards. Richards went on to become a professional female tennis player.
“To send Renee Richards into a men’s bathroom — that would be really dangerous because Renee is a woman,” Meyer said.
The bill will now move to the desk of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who issued a statement lauding its passage minutes after the Senate vote.
“This bill is another step forward in the fight for equal rights for all of Connecticut’s citizens, and it’s the right thing to do. It’s difficult enough for people who are grappling with the issue of their gender identity, and discrimination against them has no place in our society. Connecticut has led the way in other civil rights issues and I’m proud to be able to support and sign this bill,” he said.
It’s been a long seven years, but there were hugs all around for the handful of proponents in the Senate gallery Saturday morning.
Jerimarie Liesegang, director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, said Connecticut is a good state with good legislators. She said she respects differences and was disappointed when a small minority sought to invoke discussions about bathrooms when that’s not what the bill was about.
“This is about discrimination. It’s not about bathrooms,” Liesegang said. “It’s about my being employed.”
Liesegang said she had difficulty keeping her job during her transition because there were a handful of people who still needed to be educated. Once they were educated she said none of them could understand how she was different if someone on the outside of the company pointed it out.
She said this bill doesn’t eliminate discrimination, but it makes it illegal.