A bill to protect transgendered people from workplace discrimination is up for a vote today by the full state House of Representatives.
Current state law protects transgendered individuals from discrimination in housing and public accommodations but is less explicit in the area of employment.
Though the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission interprets state law against sexual discrimination to provide those protections, advocates of the bill say it would explicitly bar workplace discrimination against transgendered people — people who express themselves as a person of the opposite gender.
"I think it is just about equality and fairness," said House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa), the bill’s primary sponsor. "In the employment context, we really need to have this since we already have it on the books for public accommodations, hate crimes and residential property discrimination."
A 2009 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 97 percent of transgendered people experience mistreatment, harassment or discrimination in the workplace or in the hiring process.
Figures were not available on the number of complaints filed in Hawaii alleging workplace discrimination against transgendered people.
"The fact that there is no express protection in employment law makes it so that people who experience this kind of discrimination (are) that much less likely to come forward and try to object," said Susan Hippensteele, an attorney and professor of women’s studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "They feel like it will just attract further attention to themselves and make it more likely that they will lose their jobs."
Opponents of the proposal said the bill would be harmful to businesses.
"This bill creates more jobs for attorneys and creates out of whole cloth more rights that are really privileges," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai).