THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Transgender state workers get aid from governor

Activists see order as step toward new law

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By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / February 18, 2011

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Governor Deval Patrick quietly issued an executive order yesterday banning discrimination against transgender workers in state government, a move that advocates view as a first step toward passing statewide legislation.

Patrick signed the order in a private ceremony in his office attended by advocates and several transgender state employees. He did not list the event on his public schedule or send out a press release afterward.

The order expands the state’s current civil rights policy by forbidding state government and its contractors from discriminating on the basis of “gender identity or expression.’’ The state already forbids discrimination based on a host of other characteristics, including race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and religion.

Patrick said he signed the order after being asked to do so by advocates.

“It’s really this point about leading by example,’’ he said following an unrelated event late yesterday. “We have so much talent in this Commonwealth, and it resides in every single corner and in every single community, and we want to make as clear as possible that we welcome that talent and its contributions.’’

He said he was not trying to avoid questions about the controversial subject by signing the order in a private ceremony.

“You’re kidding, right?’’ Patrick said.

He pointed out that he supports a similar measure in the Legislature that would ban discrimination against transgender workers in both public and private settings statewide.

“I’m right out there and clear on the record in support of the transgender bill, so why would I be in the least bit hesitant about the executive order?’’ he said. “You’ll have to ask somebody else about why it wasn’t on my public schedule.’’

Transgender workers and advocates applauded the governor’s order.

“It opens up to the community the fact that transgender people need to be hired and treated properly,’’ said Diane DeLap, a transgender worker in the state Department of Workforce Development, who attended the ceremony.

She and other advocates said they hope the executive order will spur the Legislature to act on their ultimate goal, a statewide bill, which has been stalled for years.

“If we’ve got 100 yards to go, this gets us to the 25-yard line,’’ said Beth I. Z. Boland, a former president of the state Women’s Bar Association.

Opponents have derided the statewide measure as “the bathroom bill,’’ asserting that it would allow men to enter women’s bathrooms.

Yesterday, Kris Mineau — president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a socially conservative group — said the governor’s order “may well be a stealth bathroom bill, opening bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers to any gender in all government-controlled facilities, including public schools down to kindergarten.’’

“If so, this would be an end-run around the Legislature and directly impact vulnerable children, as well as the safety, modesty, and decorum of all citizens,’’ he said in a statement.

Supporters have said that the “bathroom bill’’ label is offensive and that the measure would not sanction unisex bathrooms. They said that transgender people already use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify and that the bill is about preventing harassment and discrimination.

Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said the governor’s order is “a powerful step that’s going to help us get the bill passed, because we can now go to legislators and say, ‘Look, it’s already the law for state employees and vendors, and nothing bad has happened.’’’

“It takes away the fear factor from passing the bill, because a piece of it is already law, and the sky didn’t fall,’’ she said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com