NJ Transgender law goes into effect

Newsday reports that New Jersey joins states that protect transgender rights.

New Jersey has joined a growing number of states by enacting a law making it illegal to discriminate against transgendered people.

The law, which sailed through the state Legislature in December, has received little attention in a state that’s gaining a reputation for being welcoming to lesbian, gay and transgendered people. Earlier this year, New Jersey began allowing same-sex couples to unite in civil unions.

Advocates hope the state’s law prohibiting transgender discrimination, which went into effect Sunday, will lead to more acceptance of transgender people nationwide. New Jersey is the ninth state to adopt such a law.

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center of Transgender Equality in Washington, said she expects more states to follow, including a handful in 2007 and 2008.

“It’s really simply a reaction to there being more (transgender) people who are out,” Keisling said. “As more people transition, it becomes safer to transition.”

The law makes it illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant because of his or her gender status, and companies cannot refuse to hire people because they are transsexual, cross-dressers, asexual, of ambiguous gender or simply not traditionally feminine or masculine. The law also bans discrimination in credit, business contracts and public accommodations such as stores or restaurants.

Violators could be subject to up to 90 days in jail or fines up to $500.

The New Jersey law is among the most recent in a string of states now protecting transgendered people. The first such state law was adopted in Minnesota in 1993.

Now, 13 states and the District of Columbia have such laws. They haven’t taken effect in four of those states _ Iowa, Vermont, Colorado and Oregon _ but will by Jan 1.

In New Jersey, advocates expect the new law to raise public awareness of people who are born one gender but live as the opposite gender. The legal protections have been in place since a 2001 state appeals court ruling that held it was unlawful to discriminate against a transsexual doctor.

Barbra Casbar, of Edison, a transsexual woman who fought for the change, called the new law “the start of a cultural change.”

Labor law posters at work places notifying workers of their rights will include the transgender protection.

Advocates say many employers and landlords and even transgendered people themselves did not know about the decision, known as Enriquez v. West Jersey Health Systems, or the protections it offers. Despite the legal protections, transgendered people say discrimination happens too frequently.

Coy Gordon, who was born a male but has lived as a female since high school nearly 30 years ago, said she believes she’s been rejected for work because she is transgendered.

“To them (employers), I’m still a freak,” said Gordon, 43, an unemployed counselor who lives in Jersey City.

Unable to get jobs, she said, transgendered women often have little choice but to turn to prostitution.

Last December, New Jersey lawmakers voted to add gender identity and expression to the long list of areas where discrimination is outlawed in the state’s law against discrimination, which has been expanded several times since it was first adopted in 1945.

While it hardly received any attention, New Jersey gay and transgendered rights leaders said it was as much a priority for them as the state’s law allowing civil unions, which took effect in February.

The transgender law passed overwhelmingly in both chambers.

“I have never had an easier time lobbying than for this bill,” said Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, an advocacy group that pushed for the law.

Jillian Todd Weiss, an assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo College in Mahwah, who is also a transsexual, said the law might make people treat transgendered people better, but it won’t necessarily change attitudes or beliefs.

“It’s very difficult to legislate away prejudice,” she said.


On the Net:

National Center of Transgender Equality: http://www.nctequality.org/

Garden State Equality: http://www.gardenstateequality.org