June 7, 2013 at 9:40 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Delaware Senate approves transgender rights bill
Jack Markell, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Gov. Jack Markell supports a bill that would add gender identity to Delaware’s anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Delaware Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would add gender identity and expression to the state’s anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

The 11-7 vote came after lawmakers debated the measure that Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) introduced late last month. Senate Bill 97 would specifically ban anti-transgender discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and works contracting and insurance.

Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) and state Sens. Catherine Cloutier (R-Heatherbrooke,) Bethany Hall-Long (D-Middletown,) Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington,) David McBride (D-Hawk’s Nest,) Harris McDowell III (D-Wilmington,) Karen Peterson (D-Stanton,) Nicole Poore (D-New Castle,) David Sokola (D-Newark) and Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) voted for SB 97.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson (R-Milford) and state Sens. Colin Bonini (R-Dover,) Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna,) Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View,) David Lawson (R-Marydel,) Ernesto Lopez (R-Lewes) and Robert Venables, Sr., (D-Laurel) voted against the measure. State Sens. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover) and Senate Majority Whip Gregory Lavelle (R-Sharpley) abstained, while Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) was absent.

“This bill lets people know that Delaware will welcome you and that, in keeping with our highest ideals as Americans, we will not tolerate discrimination or violence against a person based on their race, color, religion, sexual orientation or now based on their perceived gender,” Henry said after the vote.

Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman also welcomed SB 97’s passage.

“We are so proud of the 11 senators who voted today to make Delaware a fair and welcoming place for transgender Delawareans,” she told the Washington Blade.

WDDE reported Delaware Family Policy Council President Nicole Theis was among those who testified against SB 97 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. The public radio station said Theis, who also testified against the same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Jack Markell signed into law last month, told lawmakers the measure would allow criminals to go into bathrooms and locker rooms.

“There’s nothing in this legislation that would prevent a predator who wants to express themselves as a female from having access to all of those public accommodations,” Theis said.

Bonini also accused Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis of lying during her testimony in support of SB 97 after she responded to his hypothetical question about whether he would be arrested if he walked into a TGIFridays bathroom wearing a dress and a wig. Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, who presides over the Senate, and other senators challenged the Dover Republican for interrupting Lewis.

Sixteen states and D.C. have trans-inclusive anti-discrimination laws. Thirteen of those states and the nation’s capital have also added gender identity and expression to their hate crimes statutes.

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Padilla García last month signed a bill that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the U.S. commonwealth. The New York Assembly last month once again approved a measure – the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act – that would add trans-specific protections to the state’s non-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

The University of Delaware has also added gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination policies.

Attorney General Beau Biden and Markell have both publicly backed SB 97.

“We’re very focused in Delaware on making sure the law does not discriminate,” Markell said in a press release. “We’re a very welcoming state and we want people who want to build a good life here.”

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on SB 97 on June 12.

Goodman told the Blade she remains optimistic it has enough votes to pass in the House.

“We are confident that our House will pass the bill, and Gov. Markell is ready to sign it,” she said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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