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 Today in Congress

 

news release
from

BARNEY FRANK

            

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:  Steve Adamske 202.225.7141

March 4, 2008

FRANK CALLS FOR EXTENDING MASSACHUSETTS ANTIDISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION TO TRANSGENDER PEOPLE

             Newton, MA—U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-Newton) today submitted the following statement urging the Massachusetts legislature to extend current state antidiscrimination laws to people who are transgender.  Rep. Frank has long supported policies to extend important employment, housing and other protections to people who are transgender.

             The statement by the Congressman was delivered by Mr. Diego Sanchez at a hearing in the Massachusetts State House because Frank could not be there in person, as a result of his Congressional duties in Washington, DC.  Sanchez is the Director of Public Relations and External Affairs for AIDS Action Committee, and the first transgender member of the Democratic National Committee Platform Committee to be appointed by DNC Chair Howard Dean. 

            “It’s tremendous that Rep. Frank is able to bring his trans-inclusive work to bear in Massachusetts, by offering testimony for HB 1722,” Sanchez said.  “I am honored that he selected me to deliver it while he works on the subprime crisis.”

In the conclusion of his testimony, Frank states that he is submitting his remarks “not as part of any radical agenda, but as a plea for us to recognize what I believe is our obligation to treat each other with the respect and dignity and fairness that everyone should be entitled to receive.  I will continue to fight in Washington for transgender inclusion in any antidiscrimination legislation.  I hope that when I return to that effort, I will be able to point to the state that I am honored to be able to represent in the U.S. Congress as one that has recognized the importance of that principle.”

 

Frank’s full statement is below:

 

March 4, 2008

 

STATEMENT OF U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BARNEY FRANK ON THE INCLUSION OF PEOPLE WHO ARE TRANSGENDER IN ANTIDISCRIMINATION PROTECTION LEGISLATION

 

Members of the Committee: 

I had hoped to be able to appear before you in person, and I appreciate the courtesy that the committee chair had extended to me in trying to help me arrange this. But as legislators you know that the demands of legislative schedules often override our personal wishes, and there is simply no way I can be out of Washington this morning.  The Committee on Financial Services which I chair has primary responsibility in the House for legislation dealing with the subprime crisis and its disastrous implications, and we are very much in the midst of the work that is necessary to put an appropriate legislative package together.

I am particularly disappointed because I want to do all that I can to make sure that the failure to get transgender protection included in the legislation that passed the U.S. House last October and November not be interpreted as a reason for the Commonwealth to refuse to amend our law to be fully inclusive.  It comes as no surprise to you that the reasons why things happen in legislative bodies are not always accurately portrayed, and it seemed to me important to reaffirm that those of us working hard for antidiscrimination legislation at the federal level, Speaker Pelosi, Chairman George Miller of the House Education and Labor Committee, myself and others were in no way ourselves ambivalent about the justification of transgender inclusion.  We worked very hard to achieve that, but we were unable to succeed politically.  Fortunately, the political composition of the Massachusetts Legislature differs in a number of ways – almost all of them positive – from the U.S. House of Representatives, and I did want to make it clear that it was a lack of votes and not a lack of commitment that led us to act as we did last fall.

There is a second reason why I had hoped to appear before you, and it is a more personal one.  Today marks very nearly the exact thirty-fifth anniversary of my having appeared before a Massachusetts legislative committee in my freshman year as a Member of the House to introduce for the first time legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.  I worked hard for that legislation for the eight years in which I served in the House, and I was extremely proud of the Commonwealth when, in 1989, others succeeded where I had not been able to, in making Massachusetts the second state in the country to outlaw employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.  That example seems to me particularly relevant because I remember hearing from 1973 on concerns that adoption of such antidiscrimination legislation would be socially disruptive; morally disorienting to young people; economically burdensome for employers; and in other ways deleterious to the quality of life in the Commonwealth.  None of those predictions has come even remotely close to being true.  From 1989 when the Commonwealth did adopt this legislation until today, there have been no negative effects.  In fact, I believe that the great majority of Massachusetts citizens, not themselves facing sexual orientation discrimination, are only vaguely aware that such a law is on our books.  It presents no disadvantage whatsoever to the heterosexual inhabitants of the state.  But for those of us who are gay or lesbian it is both a real protection against discrimination and an important affirmation that we are full citizens entitled to all of the rights – and responsibilities – of everyone else.

I cite this because you are now hearing virtually the same kinds of complaints that we heard thirty-five years ago, and which have been proven to be invalid in the nineteen years since the law was passed.  I realize that there are some differences where people who are transgender are concerned, but the general nature of the fears is virtually the same, and we should profit from our experience since 1989 and not be dissuaded from protecting all of our fellow citizens by unfounded concerns.  There is of course a more recent parallel.  The courageous action of members of the General Court in refusing to undo the right of same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts was a difficult decision for many of you to make.  And as a gay man I am profoundly grateful to my fellow elected officials who persisted in doing what they believe to be the morally right thing to do in recognizing our rights to legal equality, in the face of often harsh criticism.  The fact that the negative fears here proved as invalid as those expressed in 1989 does not make me any less grateful for your willingness to brave the assaults that were made on you.

The argument for extending protection to people who are transgender is very similar to the arguments for the two measures I have just mentioned.  Our fellow citizens deserve to be treated – legally – on their merits, and not face exclusion because others disapprove of aspects of them which have no conceivable negative impact on anyone else.

The decision to act on the strong feelings that lead an individual to declare transgender status is one of the toughest that people can make.  Even if you were to give people the benefit of this law, they would still face enormous – and unfair – prejudice.  Transgender people are among the most frequent victims of hate-inspired violence, and even people generally respectful of the feelings of others often show little compunction against ridiculing and rejecting transgender people.

Legislation banning discrimination against them – that is, legislation that simply allows them as citizens to get and keep jobs on their merits – will not by any means make their lives easy.  But it is precisely because transgender people through no fault of their own face the degree of prejudice and difficulty that they still encounter that those of us in elected office ought to do what we can to offer them the protections to which they are entitled.

To some, the notion of transgender protection seems radical.  In fact, it is exactly the opposite.  What we are talking about here is the right of people in every state to earn a living.  The best way to underline this point for me is to go back to the electoral campaign of 2006.  In that election, the prospect that I would be chairman of a committee was used in many cases to try to frighten voters against giving the Democrats a majority.  Indeed, at least one advertisement I saw warned people not to vote Democratic for the U.S. House in 2006 because if the Democrats got a majority, some of the important committee chairs would be Charlie Rangel, the African American Congressman from New York, John Conyers, the African American Congressman from Detroit; and me.  When Charlie Rangel was told that the three of us had been trotted out as reasons to vote Republican, he replied, “Gee, I didn’t know that Barney Frank was colored.” 

Building on the theme of my particular unsuitability for high office, one very conservative Republican incumbent in Indiana warned in a radio ad that if people voted for his opponent, Speaker Pelosi would allow me to implement the “radical homosexual agenda.”  I am pleased to be able to note that the right-winger in question was literally the first incumbent to be declared defeated on election night in 2006, but this left me with a dilemma.  Apparently there were people in a congressional district in Indiana who now expected me to produce a “radical homosexual agenda.”  And I didn’t then have one.  I do have things I would like to see adopted on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people:  they include the right to marry the individual of our choice; the right to serve in the military to defend our country; and the right to a job based solely on our own qualifications.  I acknowledge that this is an agenda, but I do not think any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.

So I submit this statement to you not as part of any radical agenda, but as a plea for us to recognize what I believe is our obligation to treat each other with the respect and dignity and fairness that everyone should be entitled to receive.  I will continue to fight in Washington for transgender inclusion in any antidiscrimination legislation.  I hope that when I return to that effort, I will be able to point to the state that I am honored to be able to represent in the U.S. Congress as one that has recognized the importance of that principle.

 #####
 

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