Delaware legislators pass bill to protect transgender residents

 Rep. Bryon Short discusses the gender identity non-discrimination bill on the House floor (Photo courtesy of Equality Delaware)

Rep. Bryon Short discusses the gender identity non-discrimination bill on the House floor (Photo courtesy of Equality Delaware)

The Delaware legislature has passed its second landmark bill on a major social issue. This time it has to do with gender identity.

The Delaware Senate has passed a bill that would include gender identity in the state’s non-discrimination laws.

 

The amended Senate Bill 97 passed 11 to 9.  The Senate had approved an earlier version, but needed to approve changes made in the house on Tuesday.  

Gov. Jack Markell immediately signed the bill. Markell echoed themes he used when the marriage equality act was passed. He said this bill would make Delaware a more attractive place to live on many fronts.  

“Our mission is to build a welcoming and accepting state that can compete in the global economy requires laws that reflect our values,” said Markell. 

The proposed legislation cleared both chambers but was returned to the Senate floor after Rep. Bryon Short added an additional amendment to include a more specific definition of the term “gender identity.”

The update specified that gender identity may be demonstrated by “consistent and uniform assertion” of the person’s identity and states that gender identity shall not be expressed for inappropriate behavior.

“I want to make sure that it was very clear and consistent that a person who has gender identity was always using it appropriately and not using it as an excuse to commit crimes because there’s been a lot of discussion about that,” explained Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, the primary sponsor of the bill.

Opponents claim that sexual predators would be able to use the law to “pretend” to be transgender in order to use public restrooms and locker rooms to prey on women and children without being prosecuted.

It is not currently illegal for the opposite sex to enter or use a restroom and many transgender people already use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Under the new legislation, businesses that offer public accommodations could ask a transgender patron to use a separate restroom or changing area.

The legislation would add gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination laws relating to employment, housing, insurance and public accommodations.  It sets up increased penalties for those convicted of violating the law.

Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman said the new legislation gives transgender residents a safe and secure outlook on life in Delaware.

“It will mean that they will no longer have to live their lives worried that they could lose their job or be denied housing, that they could be kicked out of a restaurant or be denied insurance,” said Goodman. “It’s hard to say what living in a world like that means and what a change it will be when they no longer have to worry about those things. For Equality Delaware, it means we were able to pass both of the bills that were equality important to us this year — marriage equality and protection for transgender Delawareans.”

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