Del. House approves gender identity bill

Randall Chase, Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- The state House on Tuesday approved a Senate bill outlawing discrimination against transgender people in Delaware.

The bill cleared the House on a 24-17 vote and now goes back to the state Senate for consideration of a House amendment that's aimed at addressing concerns of some critics that sex offenders could take advantage of the law to engage in inappropriate behavior.

The legislation adds gender identity to the list of protected nondiscrimination categories, including race, age, religion and sexual orientation. It also allows for enhanced penalties under Delaware's hate crimes law for targeting someone based on his or her gender identity.

Bill supporters say transgender people currently are not protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation because they can be straight or gay.

"I believe transgender persons mostly just want to be accepted and fit in," said Rep. Michael Ramone of Newark, the only Republican to vote for the bill.

But opponents have argued that the bill is unnecessary and will lead to disturbances by men lurking in girls' restrooms and locker rooms, then claiming to be transgender.

The House amendment attempts to address such concerns with language stating that gender identity may be demonstrated by "consistent and uniform assertion of the gender identity or any other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of a person's core identity," and that gender identity cannot be asserted "for any improper purpose."

The amendment also emphasizes that places of public accommodation such as health clubs can provide reasonable accommodations based on gender identity in areas where disrobing is likely, such as locker rooms or other changing facilities. Those reasonable accommodations could include separate changing areas for transgender people, with supporters saying business owners could require transgender people to use those separate facilities.

Democratic Rep. Bryon Short of Wilmington, the House sponsor of the bill, said the amendment was a response to the many telephone calls and emails that lawmakers have received from constituents concerned about the effect of the bill.

Opponents of the legislation still assert that it could cause problems down the road.

Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro, wondered what would happen if a male transgender high school student identifying as a girl wanted to play on the girls' softball or field hockey team.

Lisa Goodman of Equality Delaware, a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, said after the House vote that the bill would not apply to public schools. But she was unable to say how the case of a transgender student wanting to play interscholastic sports would be handled.

"There's a complicated interplay there and I don't know the specific answer to that question," she said.

Atkins also noted that while the Department of Motor Vehicles has issued identification cards based on people's expressed gender identity, the Department of Correction has told him that transgender people with male genitalia will be housed in men's prisons, even if they identify themselves as female.

"We're going to have conflicting opinions between state agencies," he said.

Other critics wondered where lawmakers will stop in identifying protected classes under the state's anti-discrimination laws.

"What's next?" asked Rep. Ruth Briggs Kings, a Georgetown Republican. "Are we going to be here in a couple of years talking about obesity?"