State Democrats push for protections for transgender people: "I'd like to change the world"

MADISON-- Democratic lawmakers want to protect transgender people in Wisconsin from being discriminated against when they look for housing or apply for a job.

Reps. Mark Spreitzer and JoCasta Zamarripa and Sen. Tim Carpenter on Thursday, June 1st introduced a measure that would make Wisconsin the 20th state to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.

"Some people face discrimination because they're perceived as not fitting into a narrow norm of how someone else thinks that a man or a woman should look, dress or act," he said. "This bill rests on the simple concept that members of the transgender community are people."

State law already protects people from discrimination in employment, housing and the use of public places based on sex and sexual orientation. Spreitzer said recent legal battles — including a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling this week in favor of a transgender Kenosha high school student who wanted the right to use the boys' bathroom — highlight the need for explicit protections in the law for gender identity.

John and Annette Grunseth said they were shocked when their adult daughter came out a few years ago as transgender. But they say she's a much happier person since deciding to live as a woman. Now they worry about her safety and whether she'll be fired from a job simply for being herself.

"I wouldn't change my daughter for the world," Annette said. "But I'd like to change the world for her to be treated equally."

Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's office, so getting the measure passed would require bipartisan support. Spreitzer said no Republicans have committed to supporting it yet.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, said he's still reviewing the proposal. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos didn't immediately respond to a question about his position on the measure.

There are about 58,000 transgender and non-binary people living in Wisconsin, according to Loree Cook Daniels, a program director for transgender advocacy group FORGE.

Wisconsin was the first state to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, when former Republican Gov. Lee Dreyfus signed it into state law in 1982.