June 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Delaware House approves transgender rights bill

Gay News, Washington Blade, Delaware

Rep. Bryon Short (D-Claymont) speaks in support of Senate Bill 97 in Dover, Del. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas.)

DOVER, Del.—The Delaware House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would add gender identity and expression to the state’s anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

The 24-17 vote came less than a week after Senate Bill 97 passed out of the House Administration Committee.

State Reps. Michael Barbieri (D-Newark,) Paul Baumbach (D-Newark,) Andria Bennett (D-Dover,) Stephanie Bolden (D-Wilmington,) Gerald Brady (D-Wilmington,) Debra Heffernan (D-Brandywine Hundred,) Earl Jaques, Jr., (D-Glasgow,) James Johnson (D-Holloway Terrace,) Quinton Johnson (D-Middletown,) Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington,) John Kowalko, Jr., (D-Newark,) Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear), Michael Mulrooney (D-Pennwood,) Edward Osienski (D-Beecher’s Lot,) Charles Potter, Jr. (D-Wilmington,) Mike Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley,) Darryl Scott (D-Dover,) Bryan Short (D-Brandywine Hundred,) Melanie George Smith (D-Bear,) John Viola (D-Newark,) Rebecca Walker (D-Townsend,) Dennis Williams (D-Talleyville,) Kimberly Williams (D-Klair Estates) and House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) voted for the bill. State Reps. John Atkins (D-Millsboro,) Donald Blakey (R-Dover,) Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown,) William Carson (D-Smyrna,) Timothy Dukes (R-Laurel,) Ronald Gray (R-Selbyville,) Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne,) Harvey Kenton (R-Millsboro,) Joseph Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley,) John Mitchell, Jr., (D-Wilmington,) William Outten (R-Harrington,) W. Charles Paradee (D-Dover,) Harold Peterman (R-Milford,) Stephen Smyk (R-Milton,) Jeffrey Spiegelman (R-Dover,) David Wilson (R-Bridgeville) and House Minority Leader Daniel Short (R-Milford) opposed SB 97.

The Delaware Senate earlier this month approved the measure.

“This bill to me is about fairness and equality,” Bolden said.

Daniel Short called Delaware Family Policy Council President Nicole Theis to speak against SB 97 during the debate that lasted more than two hours.

“The bottom line is a concern about my rights,” Theis said. “I don’t want to go into a locker room with my small children and not have any rights.”

Briggs King suggested the passage of SB 97 could prompt lawmakers to seek protections for those who are struggling with obesity. She further said her Sussex County constituents have described the measure as one that reflects “a special interest and special concerns.”

“This bill is not about those things that we know they are born with,” Briggs King said. “It’s more about subjective and discerning preferences, feelings and choices.”

Gay News, Washington Blade, Delaware, transgender

Delaware Family Policy Council President Nicole Theis (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Ramone challenged Theis over her reference to man going into a women’s locker room during her testimony against SB 97.

“Transgenders, naturally, just want to be accepted,” Ramone said. “They just want to fit in. They just don’t want to be discriminated against. I believe in this bill because of that.”

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 into law 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.

Bryon Short, who sponsored SB 97 in the House, introduced an amendment approved before the vote that clarifies the definition of gender identity. It also seeks to ensure a person cannot claim a gender identity that is not their own to access a locker room or other sex-segregated facility.

“We heard from opponents of this bill that they did not oppose providing transgender people the same protections that are afforded to other Delawareans based on race, age, sex, religion or ethnicity. Their concerns involved the ‘public accommodations’ part of the bill,” Bryon Short said. “We listened to the concerns raised by constituents, took their comments seriously and crafted an amendment to address them.”

He added he feels the amendment actually “strengthened the protections” contained within SB 97.

“This amendment addresses the major concern that was raised last week and provides transgender people with the long overdue protections they deserve so they don’t have to live in fear of discrimination.”

The Delaware Senate will need to approve the amended bill before Gov. Jack Markell signs it into law.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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