Transgender rights bill gains ground on Beacon Hill
More businesses back measure
A growing number of businesses as well as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce are throwing support behind a bill aimed at protecting transgender people from discrimination in parks, shops, restaurants, on the subway, and in other public places.
Although the measure lacks support from Governor Charlie Baker, momentum is accelerating on Beacon Hill, and proponents last week added more than 50 businesses to the list of backers, advocates said.
“I can’t pretend to understand the medical, societal, psychological issues that transgender people deal with, but we have laws on the books that enable discrimination and we should fix that,” said James E. Rooney, president and chief executive of the chamber.
The Massachusetts Hospital Association and the YWCA Boston are among other groups joining the cause this week.
Backers also include financial services mammoth State Street and the prominent law firm Ropes & Gray, as well as smaller businesses, including Ferris Wheels Bike Shop and Flour Bakery + Cafe.
Earlier this summer, Google, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Eastern Bank announced their support for the transgender rights bill, which would strengthen a similar law passed in 2011.
The Massachusetts Hospital Association Sunday in a statement from Tim Gens, the executive vice president, said the bill is consistent with hospitals’ mission, “which is to provide access to quality care for every person who enters a hospital . . . and to ensure that each patient is treated with respect.”
The new bill would protect transgender people in public places and allow them to use bathrooms of the gender with which they identify. Supporters say transgender people have been denied service at restaurants or asked to leave stores because of their gender identity.
The state law passed four years ago afforded more protections to transgender people in matters of employment, housing, lending, and public education.
But this additional measure barring discrimination in public places was removed from the 2011 law before passage amid significant pushback from critics, who said it went too far.
Supporters said the measure enjoys more public support this year, although several groups are raising concerns.
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts wants to ensure the bill would not require businesses to construct new bathrooms for transgender people, president Jon Hurst said.
Advocates have said that would not happen.
Mason Dunn, cochair of Freedom Massachusetts, the campaign of transgender rights advocates pushing the bill, said the measure is necessary so transgender people will feel Massachusetts is a safe place in which to live, as well as work.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg has urged support. Boston Mayor J. Martin Walsh this month wrote a letter along with other city and town leaders in favor of the bill. Walsh’s administration has set up gender-neutral restrooms in City Hall.
Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors along with Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Denise Provost, said support from the business community signals that employers already are working toward protecting their workers and customers.
“We hope that our [legislative] colleagues, when they see businesses that they know about listed, will go and talk to them,” Rushing said.
Governor Baker, in a statement from a spokesman Sunday, said he “prefers the current law regarding public accommodations.” Baker during his unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial bid referred to a similar bill as the “bathroom bill” and said he would veto it if elected.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo in a statement Sunday stopped short of supporting the bill, but said, “I’ve been proud to fight for equality for the LGBTQ community.”
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative public policy organization, said the bill raises privacy concerns for nontransgender people if, for example, transgender women (assigned the male gender at birth) are allowed to enter female bathrooms or locker rooms.
“The rights and feelings of particularly women, and young women, girls, will be ignored in order to facilitate the sort of transgender agenda,” Beckwith said.
The bill is before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, and a hearing is expected in October.
To become law, the bill would need to be reported out of committee, passed by the House and Senate, and signed by the governor. A lobbying day for transgender rights is set for Thursday at the State House.
Dunn, the advocate, said passing this bill is but one step toward making transgender people accepted members of society.
“The work will continue after the bill passes . . . to do the education and do the outreach to say this is now law and let’s follow this up with trainings and with conversations,” Dunn said.