PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee was joined by Representatives John G. Edwards and Edith H. Ajello; Senators Melissa A. Murray and Meghan E. Kallman; and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community today for the ceremonial signing of legislation that will continue to make Rhode Island a more equitable and inclusive state for its LGBTQ+ residents.
"I'm proud to sign these two pieces of legislation that will continue to make Rhode Island a more equitable and inclusive state," said Governor Dan McKee. "With this legislation, we're striving to make Rhode Island a better place – one step at a time. I thank the representatives and senators who sponsored the bills, the legislators who voted to pass these bills, and the advocates who championed these causes during the session. Through all their combined work, they saw this legislation across the finish line, and I'm honored to sign them into law."
The first bill (2021-H 5741, 2021-S 0755) makes single-user restrooms in public places non-gender specific. The bill amends the state building code to require that any single-use restroom in a public building or place of public accommodation be available for use by persons of any gender by January 1, 2022. It also requires that all new construction of state and municipal buildings opened to the public after July 1 provide for a single-user restroom facility for use by persons of any gender.
"Gender-specific restrooms can cause a great deal of anxiety for members of the transgender community," said Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), bill sponsor. "The reason for that anxiety is the verbal — and sometimes physical — harassment that many of them have experienced. This bill would simply strip single-user bathrooms of any gender designation, which will go a long way toward improving the mental health of members of the transgender and non-binary community. This is an important step for the state to take in providing for the inclusion of all its residents."
"This bill ensures safe and inclusive access to restroom facilities in public places for all people," said Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), bill sponsor. "It's not just beneficial for the safety of transgender and non-binary people, it also helps people with a variety of medical conditions. This is a very simple effort that will make things fair and equitable for all people."
The second bill (2021-H 6215, 2021-S 0563) updates the definition of sexual orientation in regard to fair housing practices and eliminates an exemption that allowed discrimination based on gender identity or expression in owner-occupied buildings of three units or less.
"Housing discrimination is unacceptable, period. There should be no exceptions, and now, 20 years after we established this protection, it will finally reach as far as it was originally intended," said Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), bill sponsor, who in 2001 sponsored the legislation including gender identity of expression in the law. In order to achieve passage of the bill at that time, it was amended to exempt owner-occupied buildings with three units or less. "Fortunately, we have come a long way in the last two decades, and today we recognize that there is no compromise when it comes to discrimination. Every person needs and deserves safe housing, and today this law recognizes both that need, and the dignity and rights of all Rhode Islanders."
"Amid the critical housing shortage Rhode Island is facing, housing discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender expression causes significant, lasting harm," said Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), bill sponsor. "Updating the housing discrimination law, eliminating exemptions that actually allow discrimination in some cases, and expanding legal options reflects the gravity of this matter, and provides stronger protections and safety to the LGBTQ+ community."
The ceremonial bill signing took place at Youth Pride Rhode Island in Providence, an organization committed to meeting the needs of Rhode Island's LGBTQ+ youth and young adults while also striving to end homophobic and transphobic elements in which they live, work, and play.
"These bills remove barriers that trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people face in their everyday lives, whether they're looking for a place to live or simply trying to use the restroom," said Galen Auer of LGBTQ Action RI. "Today represents one more step toward housing and health equity for LGBTQ+ Rhode Islanders, and although we have more work ahead of us, it gives me hope and courage to see how far we've come since 1976, when city and state officials tried to block Providence's first Pride march."
"Rhode Island has always been in the forefront of extending LGBTQIA non-discrimination rights. I am proud to say that we are still in the forefront of extending these rights to everyone," said Monique Paul, Board Vice President, TGI Network.