Illinois takes steps with new laws to protect transgender community

Illinois takes steps with new laws to protect transgender community

Regardless of the lack of a budget in Illinois, those elected to represent the people of the State have not been sitting on their hands. With bipartisan majorities, including support from Republican leaders in both the Illinois House and Senate, January 1st, 2016 will bring three new laws to the State that mark a significant move forward in protections for the Transgender community.

The first law, HB 0217/PA 99-0411  titled the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, prohibits gay conversation therapy and referring to homosexuality as an illness when advertising conversion therapy services. Illinois states in the act that it “has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.”

By all appearances, both the House and Senate of Illinois did their research and noted in the Act several studies done by organizations like The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The Pan American Health Organization, and the American Psychological Association. The Act notes as it's first finding that “Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness deficiency or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.”

Pamela Valentine, mother of two young children, has had to navigate the transition of her oldest child, from assigned female to male, in the last several years.  She has seen the reality of what it takes to support a trans youth and experienced the severe lack of understanding there is, in her family and in the community. "I can sometimes forget that I am not the norm. Far too many people, both youth and adults, are being told that there is something is inherently wrong with them and they need to be fixed. When we see school boards arguing over trans students, I am relieved to live in a state that realizes the problem isn't with trans youth, but the systems in place."

The Youth Mental Health Protection Act states that a mental health provider that attempts to use conversation therapy on a person under the age of 18 may be subject to disciplinary action by the licensing entity which could result in the suspension or loss of the providers license due to the unprofessional conduct. This Act goes further than any other of it's kind in the country in that if any mental health professional who represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder or illness is in violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and subject to disciplinary action under that act.

Unprofessional conduct and practices are just part of the issues facing the LGBT community. Violence is at an all time high for transgender individuals, especially trans women of color. In 1990, Gov. James Thompson sign the current hates crimes law which has been interpreted to cover gender identity but never specifically mentioned it.

On July 20th, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Public Act 99-0077, an enhanced Hate Crimes statute. For the first time, gender identity is expressly protected. The passage amends the Criminal Code of 2012 and the Unified Code of Corrections by moving away from the meaning of “sexual orientation” referring to only heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality and now ascribes to the language used in the Illinois Humans Rights Act, which includes gender identity.

The Act also includes provisions to increase the penalty for persons who knowing and willfully commit vandalism against organizations and institutions who serve the LGBT community.

Though this new enhanced hate crimes law seems to take steps in the right direction, not all are convinced that laws are enough to provide safety to at-risk transgender individuals.  Josie Paul, Director of TransLife Center here in Chicago,  expressed doubts that the new law will have much impact in reality. "I don't think the community we serve at the TransLife Center feels any safer with enhanced hate crime legislation. I doubt we will see any decrease in street harassment or violence." Even with the legal protections the transgender community has here in Illinois, Paul says, "Laws have done nothing. Many systems in Illinois still oppress trans women."

Paul sees, on a daily basis, the lack of support the police and the governmental systems of Illinois show to the trans gender community. When asked what can and should be done, Paul stated "I think we need to see local grassroots advocacy including local churches to step up. We need resources for Trans persons coming out of jails, prisons, and rehab programs that actually offer Trans women a real chance at getting out of the cycle of poverty, addiction, and survival mode. We need opportunities for trans women to actually heal trauma. We need justice to be this broad, not just words in legislation. Justice written into law must translate to justice in practice to meaningfully support the most oppressed and marginalized."

The third law that takes affect at the first of the year is one that many people don't think about but corrects something that worries many transgender individuals. “What will happen to me after I die?” is a question that haunts many in the community due to no immediate family or fractured family relations. Many transgender men and woman across the country and globe have had their true identity striped away from them after their death.

The sudden death of Jennifer Gables in 2014 is just one of countless examples of the lack of dignity that is shown to transgender people. Though Jennifer had legally changed her name and gone through transition-related medical care, Jennifer's friends were shocked to discover that her family, who she was estranged from for some time, cut her hair, dressed her in a man's suit and buried her under her birth name. No mention of the life Jennifer had after transition was ever mentioned in her obituary or funeral service.

On January 1st, transgender individuals in the State of Illinois will now be protected from this sort of indignity. House Bill 3552 was introduced to amend the Disposition of Remains Act so that a person's last instructions regarding their gender identity must be respect by funeral directors. Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-39th District – Chicago) and Sen. William Delgado (D - 2nd District - Chicago) were the chief sponsors of the bill that went on to pass unanimously in the Senate. The bill passed the House with 79 to 34 bi-partisan approval.

When it comes to ensuring the dignity of transgender men and women in the decisions about burial and funeral services, Illinois is leading the way. Based on available information, Public Act 99-0417, is the first of it's kind in the nation. The changes to the Act spell out instructions regarding gender identity, with respect to appearance, chosen name and preferred pronouns. These protections are to be followed regardless on whether the person has obtained a court-ordered name change, changed the gender marker on identification documents or under gone any transition-related medical treatment.

As difficult as it is to think about, experts encouraged everyone to take the time and document your wishes when it is in regards to the disposition of your remains and how you are to be treated after you die. Brian Stevens, Associate Attorney at David Wells & Associates PC in Chicago, recommends that to avoid problems, advanced directives be firmly in place and updated regularly. "Troubles often arise when individuals do nothing, as under Illinois (and most state’s) law, there is a priority as to who can make disposition decisions. For an unmarried individual, without children, and who doesn’t nominate an agent, that is most often going to be any surviving parents or siblings. For some people this may be acceptable, but for many others those are the last people they would want in charge of making such decisions."

Mike Ziri of Equality Illinois says that though it is a small provision in the Act, it will have “a big effect in that it'll ensure respect for the person's wishes. . . it'll provide solace to a transgender person for end of life decisions.”

If you want to know more about what your rights are as a transgender person in Illinois, Equality Illinois has pamphlet that you can download here.

For a full list of all the new laws taking effect - you can find it here

 

As always, you can find me on

Facebook at Trans Girl at the Cross and at Twitter @Megganrenee

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    Meggan Sommerville

    Meggan Sommerville is a Christian transgender woman with a heart for educating others about the transgender community and her faith in her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her career life has taken her on a variety of adventures, from being a veterinary technician in the Western burbs of Chicago to being an EMT/Paramedic, EMS instructor, and a paid on call firefighter for Bolingbrook , Illinois. Since 1998, she has been the frame shop manager for a national craft retailer. You can contact Meggan via email at Meg.Sommerville@aol.com or find her on Facebook at Trans Girl at the Cross

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