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Rosenberg urges support for transgender rights bill

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg urged lawmakers Thursday to take action on a bill banning discrimination against transgender people in malls, restaurants, parks, and other public accommodations.

"I strongly encourage the Judiciary Committee to move this bill to the floor for a vote as soon as possible," he said.

Other Beacon Hill leaders would not go that far.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo trumpeted a 2011 law that provided legal protections for transgender people in housing, employment, lending, and public education.

But he did not take a position on extending those protections to public accommodations, saying in a statement that he is "proud to co-sponsor" a planned July 8 briefing for lawmakers on the issue.

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A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker said, in a statement, that the administration "fully supports" the 2011 law but "prefers the current law regarding public accommodations." That law does not include transgender people.

Baker ran into some controversy during his unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010 when he referred to similar legislation as a "bathroom bill" and said he would veto it if elected.

Social conservatives raised concerns, at the time, that the bill could lead to unisex bathrooms and locker rooms. Gay rights advocates called the "bathroom bill" language a scare tactic meant to conjure images of sexual predators crossdressing to enter women's bathrooms.

When lawmakers passed transgender rights in 2011, they excluded the public accommodations provisions.

Advocates pledged to continue the fight for those provisions. A bipartisan coalition of gay rights groups and businesses have formed a group called Freedom Massachusetts that is pressing for legislative approval before the end of the year.

This week Google, Eastern Bank, and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, where Baker once served as chief executive officer, announced support for the bill.

Kasey Suffredini, of Freedom Massachusetts, welcomed Rosenberg's call for a vote on the legislation Thursday. And while DeLeo was more measured, focusing on his sponsorship of the legislative briefing, Suffredini remained upbeat about the speaker's approach.

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"I think his statement today that he is co-sponsoring the briefing is a strong statement that he is doing his part on his side of the State House to make sure that his members are educated and understand why this issue needs to happen today," Suffredini said.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey confirmed she will attend the closed-door legislative briefing and support the bill.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said in a statement that "people who lived through or have seen pictures of the 1960 civil rights sit-ins at lunch counters will remember that public accommodations are fundamental to equal rights in America."

The bill, which would clear the way for transgender people to use restrooms for the gender with which they identify, would prohibit coffee shops, hospitals, and other public accommodations from refusing to serve transgender people.


Joshua Miller and Akilah Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com