Business & Tech

Transgender rights bill gets bigger push from Mass. businesses

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General Electric Co., Suffolk Construction, and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable arethrowing their support behind a bill to bolster transgender rights, as Attorney General Maura Healey turns up the heat on the Legislature to act on it.

In an effort organized by Healey, businesses sent a letter on Wednesday to House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg urging them to vote in favor of a measure that will protect transgender individuals from discrimination in public places, such as bathrooms, restaurants, and malls.

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The letter is signed by more than 40 companies and business organizations, including Biogen, Eastern Bank, EMC, Google, Harvard Pilgrim, Hill Holliday, Liberty Mutual, and Partners HealthCare.

“Promoting equality is not just the right thing to do -- it is also good for business,” the letter states. “Discriminatory laws make it harder for companies and regions to recruit talented employees, attract customers, and build a thriving economy.”

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Healey, the country’s first openly-gay attorney general, has been marshaling support for the bill, which remains stalled in a joint committee. Both DeLeo and Rosenberg personally back the bill, but Governor Charlie Baker remains noncommittal.

In a statement to the Globe, Rosenberg, who is openly gay, noted that the Senate put the bill on its public policy agenda more than a year ago and “has been ready to vote on it for many months.”

“I look forward to the bill coming out of the joint committee,” he added. “The Senate expects to debate the bill in late May or early June at the absolute latest.”

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A DeLeo spokesman said the speaker “is still in discussions with members” about the bill.

In 2011, Massachusetts passed a transgender equal rights law that would protect against gender identity discrimination in areas such as housing, employment, and public education. But left out was a measure to prevent transgender individuals from harassment or unequal treatment in public areas.

The current transgender legislation (Senate Bill 735 and House Bill 1577) would close that loophole. Seventeen other states already offer such protections. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Fenway Institute and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, 65 percent of transgender people in Massachusetts report having experienced discrimination in a public place.

Baker has come under pressure to back the bill, given that he is perhaps among the most pro-gay Republicans in the country.

“Governor Baker supports the 2011 legislation that expanded protections to transgender individuals and believes no one should be discriminated against,” spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in a statement. “He looks forward to reviewing additional legislation should it reach his desk.”

Healey has worked with the business community to lobby for the passage of the bill, launching a social media campaign in March featuring prominent allies ranging from reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner to Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca.

More than 200 businesses are part of a broad coalition, known as Freedom Massachusetts, endorsing the legislation. General Electric, which will move it headquarters to Boston later this year, joined the group last week, one of several LGBT rights actions the industrial giant has taken.

“At GE, we have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” the company explained on its website.

The Massachusetts Business Roundtable, which represents senior executives from big companies, came out in favor of the legislation this week, joining coalition members Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Alliance for Business Leadership.

“There is overwhelming support from my membership,” said J.D. Chesloff, executive director of the business roundtable, who noticed that many of the companies in the coalition are also part of the roundtable. “It was a little bit of a no brainer.”

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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