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Connecticut House Passes Transgender Rights Bill

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Transgender Bathroom Sign (file / credit: AP)

Transgender Bathroom Sign (file / credit: AP)

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HARTFORD, CT (AP / CBSNewYork) - The House of Representatives approved legislation late Thursday that provides protections from gender identity discrimination under Connecticut law.

WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau With Opponent St. Rep. Vincent Candelora

The bill would include “gender identity or expression” as a protected characteristic along with race, national origin, sex and other attributes under current state law. It now moves to the Senate for further action.

State lawmakers voted 77 to 62 in favor of the bill, following five hours of debate that touched on such issues as employment law and whether pedophiles might be encouraged to misuse the law to track down young girls in women’s restrooms.

Proponents said the legal protections are needed to help a small group of people who’ve experienced discrimination regarding employment and housing matters.

“It is a reality, and there are members of our community who face this crisis in their own lives and all we’re doing tonight is saying that it’s not our place as a society to discriminate against those people.

It’s not our place as a majority of the population to decide that they are not entitled to the same rights and privileges that the rest of us enjoy,” said House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.

As the father of six-year-old daughter, St. Rep. Vincent Candelora says he has a concern. His child is too old to accompany him into a public restroom for men. So, if the two are out a restaurant, for example, he generally walks her to the ladies room and waits outside. What if, he wonders, she should be exposed to a male transgender in the bathroom.

“..and exposed to seeing, you know, male genitalia and as a result of that, it’s going to spark a conversation that I don’t necessarily think that my daughter is emotionally ready for,” he tells WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.

Candelora admits the scenario is remote, but he believes the law, as written, is just too vague and he cast his vote against it.

But much of the debate focused on the potential for people to abuse the legislation.

Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, said he worries that male pedophiles will become emboldened by the legislation and try to gain access to women’s restrooms. He said the legislation could prove disastrous.

The House narrowly defeated an amendment, proposed by Republicans, which would have created some exemptions under the law. For example, separate bathrooms based on gender and locker rooms would have been exempted. Some legislators said the bill created a potential hardship for business owners, especially those with public restrooms. Members of the Family Institute of Connecticut, a conservative group that dubbed the legislation “the bathroom bill,” sent numerous emails to legislators, warning how the bill could be abused by peeping toms and sex offenders.

The amendment failed on a 67-62 vote.

In attempt to quell some concerns, the bill was amended with language that allows a court to seek evidence of person’s gender identity issues, such as medical history, to determine if they’ve been discriminated against. The amendment passed on a voice vote. The bill defines gender identity or expression as a person’s gender-related identity, appearance of behavior, even if that identity is different from what’s traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or sex at birth.

The legislation has been a perennial bill for years. Proponents are optimistic about its chances this year, however, because Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he’d sign the bill into law.

At times, Thursday’s debate was emotional, graphic and personal. One lawmaker, Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, spoke of a male cousin who decided last year to become a woman.

“I’m going to support (the bill) with the hope that we all move forward from tonight and treat all of our fellow human beings with a little respect, with no scorn and perhaps we can find some love,” he said.

Rep. Linda Scholfield, D-Simsbury, a health care consultant, provided her fellow lawmakers a detailed explanation of how people can be born with gender assignment issues, such as a mismatched mental gender and physical gender, or mismatched genitalia.

“We shouldn’t discriminate against people just because Mother Nature or God made them differently,” she said.

But Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, who opposed the bill, said he worried about how students could be emotionally impacted if their teacher one day changed his or her gender.

“I have nothing against what people do in the own homes but when it impacts society, when it impacts children in particular, we must be careful that we are not turning the norms of society upside down to protect the small class of individuals’ desire to be different, to express themselves differently,” he said.

Jerimarie Liesegang, a transsexual woman and director of the Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, told legislators this year that a survey taken in the greater Hartford area found half of transgender people interviewed said they had experienced employment discrimination. More than 40 percent said they’ve experienced housing discrimination.

At least 13 states have passed similar legislation.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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