The General Assembly on Thursday approved a broad package of bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Nancy Pinkin, Mila Jasey and Gordon Johnson that will solidify New Jersey's position as a leader on transgender civil rights
"Now more than ever, we need to stand up for those who are being marginalized," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide. While tremendous strides have been made in recent years to advance equality for members of the 'LGB' community, much more still needs to be done to help protect our brothers and sisters in the 'T' community."
The package of bills approved today will help strengthen transgender rights by, among other things, establishing a task force to help advance equality for transgender residents, improving insurance coverage and raising awareness and support for the transgender community.
"Although we've seen greater awareness in recent years of the challenges faced by transgender individuals, they still often face fierce cultural and institutional discrimination," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "It's incumbent upon us as government officials to stand up for all of our constituents who are being ignored or discriminated against by ensuring that we enshrine equality in our laws."
The legislative package includes
- A-4567 - Establishes the Transgender Equality Task Force to assess legal and societal barriers to equality and provide recommendations to the Legislature. The 17-member task force would look at the following areas: healthcare, long term care for the chronically ill and senior citizen transgender population, higher education, housing, including homelessness, employment, and criminal justice. (Approved 66-5-4)
- A-4568 - Prohibits health insurers, SHBP, SEHBP, University Correctional Health Care, and Medicaid from discriminating in providing coverage and services based on gender identity, including: denying, cancelling, limiting, or refusing to issue or renew a contract or policy based on gender identity, demanding payments or premiums based on a gender identity, and designating gender identity as a preexisting condition for which coverage will be limited or denied. (Approved 64-6-5)
- AJR-139 - Designates November 14 - 20 as "Transgender Awareness Week" in New Jersey to coincide with the national movement to help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming persons and increase understanding of the prejudice, discrimination, and violence that they face. (Approved 61-5-8)
- AJR-140 - Designates November 20th as "Transgender Day of Remembrance" in New Jersey to honor the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. (Approved 61-3-9
"Transgender individuals face considerable challenges in society, more than most of us can even imagine," added Vainieri Huttle. "Discrimination, harassment, decreased educational and employment opportunities, as well as barriers to clinically-appropriate healthcare and social services will continue to harm them unless we take a stand. In order to address these challenges legislatively or otherwise, we must have a comprehensive review of the current policies and procedures that are impacting the lives of transgender residents and their families."
"No one should fear being denied important health care services because of the gender they identify with," said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). "This ensures that transgender individuals receive healthcare coverage without discrimination or unfair treatment based on their gender identity."
"Gender identity should not determine a person's ability to access health care," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "This bill ensures that individuals are covered regardless of the gender they identify with, and sends a strong message that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in our state."
"This is not just a matter of right and wrong; it's a matter of life and death," said Johnson (D-Bergen). "Very few people can afford to go without health care coverage. Given the current political climate, it is important that we put these policies in place to protect transgender individuals."
Vainieri Huttle noted that the Transgender Day of Remembrance started as a vigil by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a 34 year old African-American who was a highly visible member of the transgender community and worked locally on education and transgender issues in Boston before she was murdered in her apartment in November 1998. Although the murder remains unsolved, it became the catalyst for the day of remembrance.
The Human Rights Campaign reported that in 2015 there were at least 21 murders of transgender persons in the United States, more than any previous year on record, with a disproportionate number of these victims being transgender women of color.
The bills now head to the Senate for consideration.