Feeney, Menino support transgender rights at State House

A bid to make discrimination against transgender people a crime in the state got a boost this week, as City Council President Maureen Feeney, Suffolk County's top cop and an aide to Mayor Thomas Menino voiced support for the measure.

The bill (H 1722) adds gender identity and gender expression to current non-discrimination laws affecting housing, public education, employment and hate crimes.

"The language in this bill is absolutely necessary," said Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

Feeney said transgender people "need our protection, our voice."

The bill also received support from Gov. Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley. "The proposed legislation represents another step forward in achieving fair and equal treatment for all," Patrick wrote in a letter to the chairs of the Judiciary Committee, which heard from supporters of the bill on Tuesday.

Boston passed an ordinance similar to the bill in 2002 by a 9-1 vote. The dissent came from then-Councillor James Kelly from South Boston, who argued that no evidence existed of the discrimination.

Others have also expressed opposition to the legislation, including Brian Camenker, executive director of MassResistance, a group that opposed same-sex marriage. "It's another reason for businesses to leave Massachusetts," he said.

Gay rights activists chalk the charges up to scare tactics.

Thirteen states and 155 companies in Massachusetts, including Raytheon, Bank of America and Staples, have also adopted non-discrimination policies, according to MassEquality, a 200,000-member group that fought for gay marriage rights.

"Experience in other states and cities, including right here in Boston, has shown that laws protecting transgender people can be implemented easily and without problems," MassEquality campaign director Marc Solomon said in his testimony.

Feeney also voiced support for a bill (S 802) mandating that courthouses build a "separate and secure waiting area" for victims and witnesses. The bill would also require that courthouses post a victims' bill of rights.

"This would go a long way in supporting the judicial system," she told the committee.

Patrick's public safety secretary, former prosecutor Kevin Burke, has also thrown support behind the bill.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.