MADISON, Wis. - Citing a lack of equal protection for transgender men and women under state law, Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said he is in the early stages of trying to add gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination statute.
"Wisconsin has had nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation since 1982. We were the first state to add that protection. But we haven't gone back in and added protection for gender identity and expression, to protect transgender people in employment and housing and public accommodations," Spreitzer said. "But it's something I think we ought to be looking at as a state."
Spreitzer said the effort will start with education, with the eventual goal of moving toward a law change.
"I want to have conversations with my colleagues in both parties about these issues," Spreitzer said. "And make sure people understand what we're talking about before we bring legislation forward."
Human Rights Campaign Senior Council Alison Gill said that under current Wisconsin law, transgender men and women do not have the ability to take any legal action if discrimination occurs.
"It means they can be turned away or not served in places of public accommodation, for example, businesses including medical establishments and hotels, bars, any sort of business that's open to the public generally. They could be turned away and access the services and not have any resources under the law," Gill said. "Or they might not be accepted for interviews in the first place. They might be rejected out of hand for being transgender."
Michelle Eldridge, who was assigned a male gender at birth and was raised a boy in a small Wisconsin town, said when she told her east coast employer she had decided to transition more than a decade ago, she was fired from her job. Without gender identity in Wisconsin's statute, she fears her story could just as easily happen in Wisconsin.
"You're a human being first," Eldridge said. "And when it comes to employment, it should be based on your job performance."
Ginger Baier, who helps facilitate a Madison-based support group of more than 75 members, said she often hears about the fear not having protection under state law creates.
"It's always there in the back of our mind that we can be murdered. We can be beat up. We can be raped. We can be verbally abused. All of those things. Just because of who we are," Baier said. "I can be arrested and thrown in jail for wearing women's clothes. Even though there's no law on the books that says that's against the law. I can be denied service in public accommodations, hotels, restaurants, gas stations."
A spokesperson for Senate President Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said until the senator sees a bill, it is too early to comment.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not return request for comment.
Baier echoed Spreitzer, saying transgender community members feel it will be a tough sell to pass the law.
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