CARSON CITY — Nevada’s estimated 25,000 to 50,000 transgender people finally become full-fledged citizens under state law today .
That’s when bills prohibiting discrimination against transgender men and women in the workplace, housing and public accommodations go into effect.
"It means I can feel I am part of the whole shebang," said Las Vegas marriage and family therapist Jane Heenan, a transgender activist. "I am included. I am OK. I don’t feel I am such a weirdo."
Nevada becomes the 15th state to extend the same legal protections to transgender people as it does to others on the basis of their race, creed, age, sex, religion, disability, national origin or sexual orientation.
The Nevada Equal Rights Commission will investigate complaints when transgender people think they are victims of discrimination. Laws prohibiting discrimination against gay people became law in 1999.
Transgender people are those who identify with or express behavior consistent with the gender that is opposite to the one given them at birth. Some have gone through sex change operations, and many have undergone hormone replacement treatments. The laws do not apply to those with a fetish for occasionally cross-dressing, but to people who live a full-time lifestyle in the sex opposite of their birth sex.
Through the summer as word got out that Nevada has moving toward equality for transgender people, Heenan noticed a difference in the psychological well-being of her transgender clients.
"They were saying, ‘I can come out at work now. I have less fear in my life.’ It has been a struggle for them for a long time. But now their outlook on life is improving."
Silver State transgender people are celebrating the most momentous day in their history with a Equality Won! reception between 6 and 8 p.m. today at Equality Nevada Services Center, 708 S. Sixth St. in Las Vegas.
Special recognition will be given to Assemblyman Paul Aizley and state Sen. David Parks, both D-Las Vegas, sponsors of the bills, and to Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, one of the handful of Republicans who voted for all three bills.
The bills were approved by narrow legislative margins in the spring, but Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval did not hesitate to sign them.
Laws protecting transgender people are great, but Mel Goodwin of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Las Vegas, said a lot of work is ahead in informing businesses of their obligations. She feels there already is widespread public acceptance of transgender people and their right to equal protection of the law.
Goodwin said she and others made thousands of phone calls in the spring for passage of the three bills, and about 80 percent of respondents expressed support.
"People believe in fairness," Goodwin said. "They believe in treating others with fairness and dignity."
Heenan said that while support for transgender people is widespread, about 10 percent of the population always will consider transgender people "just terrible," and no amount of persuasion will change their views.
"Basically all we want is to live and let live," Heenan said.
She said the most important law is the one preventing employment discrimination. During hearings, transgender people testified their unemployment rate is twice the state rate, and even when they have impeccable education and work records, some employers refuse to hire them.
A TOURISM DRAW?
Goodwin and Heenan believe that through news reports, the Internet and word of mouth that transgender people across the country will learn of Nevada’s move toward equality and many will visit the state.
Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said that her organization supported the bills and that many hotel-casinos strive for high Human Rights Campaign ratings because they want to publicize their willingness to serve all types of people.
"Already there is marketing to the gay and lesbian communities," Valentine said. "This gives them the freedom to market (to another group) in a manner they choose. Anything that attracts people to Las Vegas is good."
Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, which rates hotels and other businesses across the country, said the new laws show gays, lesbians and transgenders that Nevada welcomes them.
He said Americans’ ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman are evolving, noting it once was not acceptable for women to work outside the home.
Discrimination against transgender and "gender nonconforming" people is life-threatening, he added.
"It affects our physical and economic security by denying us opportunities in everything from basic health care to gainful employment. That’s why laws to protect transgender people are so important."
WHAT THE LAWS SAY
The new state law prohibiting employment discrimination against transgender people applies only to companies with 15 or more workers.
The law prohibiting people from renting or selling housing to transgender people does not apply to landlords with three or fewer homes or dwelling units under the Nevada Fair Housing Law.
Under the employment law, companies cannot discriminate based on one’s "gender expression or identity" but still can require a suitable dress standard.
During hearings, some legislators contended giving legal protection for transgender people would result in men going into women’s restrooms, or vice versa.
But during legislative hearings this year, activists such as Lauren Scott of Reno said that there no longer should be reason for critics to complain about what restrooms the transgenders use. A regulation approved last year by the state Department of Motor Vehicles allows transgender people with written authorization from doctors to change the gender mark on their drivers’ licenses. So if a security guard questions someone’s right to be in a particular restroom, the person needs only show his or her driver’s license.
A little-known section in the new public accommodations law also prohibits discrimination based on one’s gender but allows bars and other businesses to continue to offer ladies nights or discount pricing based on one’s gender.
The resort industry agreed this legislative session to back a prohibition against discrimination based on gender discrimination if an exemption was carved for special pricing promotions.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.BECOMING LAW TODAY
Below are capsule summaries of some of the 141 bills passed by the 2011 Legislature that become law today.
DISTRACTED DRIVING: Nevada becomes the ninth state to outlaw all drivers from using hand-held cellphones and the 34th to prevent them from texting. Police will issue warnings until the end of December for drivers they catch ignoring the law. Starting in January, penalties will apply: $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses. For less than $100, drivers can buy hands-free devices that allow them to make and accept calls and continue to talk while driving.
ANIMAL CRUELTY: "Cooney’s Law," named after a Reno beagle killed last year by an owner who cut her stomach open with a box cutter, makes it a felony, punishable by at least a year in prison, to "willfully and maliciously" commit cruelty against pets. It also makes it a felony to hurt pets as a way to terrorize their owners. Police expect the felony charges to be brought in as many as a dozen cases a year. Clark County resident Gina Greisen of the Nevada Voters for Animals organization said too often animals are mutilated by one spouse trying to get back at the other spouse in divorce or domestic violence situations.
PUPPY MILLS: Counties must pass ordinances requiring animal breeders to obtain permits and authorize animal control officers to inspect their premises at any reasonable hour. The law also prohibits the breeding of female dogs younger than 18 months and requires breeders to place registered microchips in the ears of cats and dogs and for all animals to receive rabies vaccinations before they are sold.
GRAFFITI: People whose property has been defaced by graffiti can sue the parents of minors who committed the crime for triple damages under the laws. The children responsible also can be ordered by judges to perform community service and clean up the property they damage. It also becomes a felony offense to deface protected sites such as historical buildings and archaeological sites.
BICYCLE SAFETY: Drivers must move their vehicles into the left lane if possible when passing bicycles and keep at least 3 feet away from bikes if they are driving in the same lane under the law. Another law calls for citing drivers with reckless driving offenses if they are at fault in accidents with bicycles.
SEX TRAFFICKING: Former prostitutes who as teenagers were treated as virtual slaves by their pimps can petition judges to have their criminal records vacated. Supporters say learning their records could help victims more easily find jobs and lead productive lives.
IDENTITY THEFT: Identity thieves often steal the Social Security numbers and birth records of children to acquire credit cards and loans for cars and even homes. The children often do not discover they have been victimized until they turn 18 and find their credit has been destroyed. The law changes the statute of limitations to give prosecutors four years to bring charges against identity thieves from the moment a young person learns he or she has been victimized.
SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS: It becomes a misdemeanor crime, subject to a $1,000 fine and possible jail time, to willfully post publicly the Social Security card number of another person.
FORECLOSURE FRAUD REFORM: Homeowners facing foreclosure will have their rights protected by this law requiring documents used in foreclosure cases to be recorded in the county where the property is located. A company bringing foreclosure against a homeowner also must file a notarized affidavit of authority to foreclosure showing it has a legal right to do so. The law also gives the attorney general’s office more authority over foreclosure fraud cases.
SMOKING WARNINGS: Stores that sell cigarettes must post signs warning women of the potential health risks of smoking during pregnancy under the law
Compiled by Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel