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Opponents say transgender rights bill is distraction from economy and invitation to lawsuits

Opponents of a transgender civil rights bill said today it would distract the Legislature from economic priorities, encourage lawsuits, and impinge on small businesses’ rights.

Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts State House said yesterday they planned to advance the bill, introduced nearly six years ago, that would include transgender people in the state’s civil rights laws protecting against discrimination in housing, credit, and employment. Proponents held a press conference yesterday, saying the bill was needed. And they showed up again this morning as critics -- about 10 Republican representatives -- held their own press conference in the lobby in front of the house chamber.

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Representative Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican, said the Legislature should focus strictly on the economy as it winds down its session today and tomorrow. he and other opponents said the state already has strict civil rights protections protecting people from discrimination.

“This bill does not promote business,” he said. “We need to be focused on one thing in this Legislature: jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Lombardo gave three examples of small business owners: a daycare, a grocery, and a women’s-only gym. He said the bill would subject them to lawsuits if they fired a transgender employee because they were worried about the effect on business.

“The goals of the advocates is to have this litigated in the courts,” he said.

As he was leaving, Lombardo was confronted by a Quincy couple -- Ken and Marcia Garber -- who said their transgender son was bullied and discriminated against before he lost his life to a drug overdoes at the age of 20. Lombardo said he did not have time to answer their question because he was late to a meeting. But Ken Garber challenged Lombardo’s contention that the transgender bill is a distraction from bills that would protect the state’s economic future.

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“Some of these people will never have a future if they don’t do something” to pass the legislation, Garber said.

Democratic leaders are hoping to vote on the transgender bill at the same time they consider a “three strikes” crime bill this week, hoping to give lawmakers struggling over the issue some political cover by allowing them to say they also voted to get tough on crime.


Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.