Someday, Americans will look back at the transgender rights debate, as they are doing now with gay rights, and wonder what the fuss was all about. Beacon Hill is beginning to help bring that day closer.
Thursday, the state Senate voted 33-4 in favor of legislation that would protect transgender people — who don't identify with their birth gender — against discrimination in public places. It should pass the House, ideally this session, and go to Governor Baker, who while not enthusiastic about the bill is expected to sign it.
The shorthand name for this kind of legislation is "bathroom bill" in states like North Carolina, which passed a discriminatory law to prevent communities from passing their own bills similar to the one that the Massachusetts Senate approved. Hysteria over transgender rights legislation is based in large part on the spreading of the myth that sexual predators claim to be transgender in accessing women's restrooms.
North Carolina doesn't have a patent on folly, however. State Senator Donald F. Humason Jr., a Westfield Republican, told The Boston Globe the law is "almost unenforceable, because it's based simply on how someone feels on that particular day." No, transgender people don't flip-flop daily on their gender identities. That decision is often arrived at after years of difficult struggle.
There are not many transgender people, but statistically they endure a high percentage of abuse and discriminatory behavior. The Obama administration helped the cause Friday by directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. Legislation guaranteeing these rights are necessary in our fearful, suspicious nation. That will change someday, but we aren't there yet.