The bill cleared the House on a 24-17 vote and now goes back to the state Senate for consideration of a House amendment that’s aimed at addressing concerns of some critics that sex offenders could take advantage of the law to engage in inappropriate behavior.
The legislation adds gender identity to the list of protected nondiscrimination categories, including race, age, religion and sexual orientation. It also allows for enhanced penalties under Delaware’s hate crimes law for targeting someone based on his or her gender identity.
Bill supporters say transgender people currently are not protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation because they can be straight or gay.
“I believe transgender persons mostly just want to be accepted and fit in,” said Rep. Michael Ramone of Newark, the only Republican to vote for the bill.
But opponents have argued that the bill is unnecessary and will lead to disturbances by men lurking in girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, then claiming to be transgender.
The House amendment attempts to address such concerns with language stating that gender identity may be demonstrated by “consistent and uniform assertion of the gender identity or any other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity,” and that gender identity cannot be asserted “for any improper purpose.”
Those reasonable accommodations could include separate changing areas for transgender people, with supporters saying business owners could require transgender people to use those separ ate facilities.
Democratic Rep. Bryon Short of Wilmington, the House sponsor of the bill, said the amendment was a response to the many telephone calls and emails that lawmakers have received from constituents concerned about the effect of the bill.
Opponents of the legislation still assert that it could cause problems down the road.