State enacts laws to protect transgender individuals

TRENTON, NJ — On July 21, two bills designed to protect the rights of transgender persons became law.

Legislation sponsored by state senators M. Teresa Ruiz and Joseph Vitale requiring the commissioner of education to develop guidelines for school districts to protect transgender students was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

“We must ensure that all of our students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, background, sexual preference or identity, are protected from discrimination,” Ruiz, who represents parts of Essex County and is the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a press release. “All of our children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and that means having the regulatory framework in place to be sure that our schools are safe places and have supportive environments for all students.”

“We have a responsibility to stand up for the students of New Jersey and we should do that by immediately putting in place protections for transgender students,” Vitale, who represents parts of Middlesex County, said in the release. “New Jersey should be a leader in providing the kinds of policies that ensure that children are free from discrimination and harassment.”

Under the new law, S-3067, the guidelines are required to provide direction for schools in addressing common issues concerning the needs of transgender students, and to assist schools in establishing policies and procedures that ensure a supportive and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students.

Among other provisions, the guidelines would be required to include information and guidance regarding: definitions of terms relevant to an understanding of transgender issues; maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment; confidentiality and privacy concerns regarding a student’s transgender or transitioning status; procedures for the maintenance of official school records; use of the name and pronoun that corresponds to a student’s gender identity; issuance of school documentation, such as student IDs, in the name that corresponds to a student’s gender identity, and permitting transgender students to dress in accordance with their gender identity; equal opportunities for participation in physical education; participation in gender-segregated school activities in accordance with a student’s gender identity; the use of restrooms and locker rooms; ensuring that school counselors are knowledgeable regarding issues and concerns relevant to transgender students; and permitting and supporting the formation of student clubs or programs regarding issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.

The bill was approved by the Senate and the Assembly in June.

Additionally, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Nancy Pinkin, Mila Jasey and Gordon Johnson to prohibit health insurers from denying transgender individuals health care coverage based on gender identity has been signed into law.

“Now more than ever, we need to stand up for those who are being marginalized,” Vainieri Huttle, who represents parts of Bergen County, said in a second press release. “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 law, A-4568, prohibits health insurers and health maintenance organizations, as well as health benefits plans or contracts which are issued or purchased pursuant to the New Jersey Individual Health Coverage Program, New Jersey Small Employer Health Benefits Program, State Health Benefits Program and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program from discriminating in the provision of coverage on the basis of gender identity or expression. The prohibited discrimination relates to currently covered persons and prospective covered persons.

“Gender identity should not determine a person’s ability to access health care,” Jasey, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties, said in the second release. “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.”

Under the law, the following discriminatory practices would be prohibited: denying, canceling, limiting or refusing to issue or renew a contract or policy based on gender identity or expression; demanding or requiring a payment or premium that is based on a covered person’s gender identity, designating a covered person’s or prospective covered person’s gender identity; designating a covered person’s or prospective covered person’s gender identity or expression as a preexisting condition for which coverage will be limited or denied; and denying or limiting coverage, or denying a claim for the following services due to a person’s gender identity: health care services related to gender transition if coverage is available for those services under the contract or policy when these same services are not related to gender transition, such as vocal training, hormone therapy, hysterectomy, and mastectomy; and health care services that are ordinarily or exclusively available to individuals of one sex when the denial or limitation is due only to the fact that the covered person is enrolled as the other sex or has undergone or is undergoing gender transition, such as certain cancer screenings.