Everyone deserves the right to use public bathrooms with impunity. This would seem obvious, but if you are a transgender person, access to public spaces — including bathrooms and locker rooms — is not a given. A bill to protect the rights of transgender individuals to public spaces has hit headwinds in the Legislature, where it sits in committee, so far a victim of unwarranted fears, and a lack of support from Governor Charlie Baker.
The bill would ban discrimination against transgender people in parks, restaurants, libraries, and other public accommodations. It also affirms their right to use public restrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. It follows the successful passage of a 2011 law that prevents transgender discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public education. Under current law, an employer can not discriminate against a transgender person in hiring, but that same establishment could deny service, or access to a bathroom.
Many in the transgender community have felt the negative effects of these loopholes. Brandon Adams, 14, of Framingham, spoke in support of the bill at a hearing last fall. When he was transitioning from a girl to a boy, he asked to use the boy's bathroom in his school, which denied his request. Brandon then avoided using the bathroom while at school, thus drinking less water, and eventually feeling dizzy and dehydrated.
Despite soaring support (the majority of the state's congressional delegation, nearly 200 businesses and organizations, and the local professional sports teams), irrational objections to the measure remain. Critics have concerns about women and children. Republican Representative Marc Lombardo called the bill "a recipe for disaster," and told the State House News Service he's afraid high school boys could suddenly say they're transgender only in order to gain access to the girls' locker room.
But no such incident has been recorded in any of the 18 other states and 200 communities nationwide where similar protections have been enacted. Research has shown that the true danger is to transgender individuals, who are more likely to face discrimination, which could lead to physical and mental health issues. In fact, Attorney General Maura Healey said her office received seven complaints last year from transgender people who have faced discrimination in public places.
It's unfortunate that the governor has taken a wait-and-see attitude on this issue. Both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg support the measure. But Baker, who previously opposed a similar proposal, has been noncommittal. That's why DeLeo is currently polling House members to ensure a veto-proof majority. The governor is being politically cautious, but he ought to take a firm position. Leading from behind and waiting to see what bill emerges, in this case, is no leadership at all.
As gays and lesbians have gained more rights, so, too, has the transgender community benefited. But in Massachusetts, a basic consideration has been left behind and deserves a speedy resolution.