Rendell broadens protection against gender-identity bias

He signed an executive order to shield transgendered employees who work in state cabinet agencies.
By Carrie Budoff
Inquirer Staff Writer

Pennsylvania joined a small group of states yesterday that guards transgendered people from employment discrimination in state government.

Gov. Rendell, in an executive order issued last night without much fanfare, opened the umbrella of protection wider than most every other state.

The order applies only to the 80,000 employees in the governor’s cabinet agencies and bans discrimination based on “gender identity or expression,” which means people whose sense of their sexual identity differs from their gender. It can include cross-dressers, people with sex-change operations, masculine women and effeminate men.

“I am proud today to emphasize my conviction that this state will treat people fairly and with personal respect as long as I serve as the chief executive,” Rendell said in a statement released with the order. He called it “an important step for the recognition of personal dignity and freedom.”

The order does not affect public institutions outside the governor’s direct control, such as colleges and school districts, Tom Hickey, a Rendell spokesman, said.

It was the second time in a year that the transgendered community claimed victory in Pennsylvania, a state known for its conservatism. In November, the legislature passed an amendment to the hate-crimes law that shielded not only gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, but also those who are transgendered.

Yesterday’s action made Pennsylvania the second state after Kentucky to ban gender-identity discrimination in the executive branch of state government through an executive order. Three other states – Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island – have gone further, enacting laws that ban discrimination against the transgendered, as well as gays and lesbians.

Pennsylvania activists are still lobbying the legislature to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state human relations act. But they viewed the executive order as a welcome step in that direction.

“It sends a signal from the highest level of government that all employees should be treated equally,” said Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, based in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania is following a movement in recent years to extend legal protections to those who are transgendered. The community has been “coming out in the same way that gay people have been for the last 20 or 30 years,” and winning rights along the way, said Kim Mills, education director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative education and advocacy organization that objected to the hate-crimes law, said he would need to review the order.

In Rendell, the community has an advocate who is likely to push for more protections, said Stephen A. Glassman, the first openly gay chairman to the state Human Relations Commission.

“He has really been out front on the issue,” Glassman said. “We are thrilled.”

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Contact staff writer Carrie Budoff at 610-313-8211 or [email protected]