Confronted by chants of “sign the bill,” Baker walked off stage about 20 minutes into a speech he had been delivering to the 10th Annual Spirit LGBT Executive Networking Night. The activists behind the protest said they are frustrated by Baker’s noncommittal stance toward the legislation. Yet their jeers did nothing to increase anyone’s understanding of the governor’s thinking, nor did they help advance the important cause of transgender rights.
It’s true Baker has refused to say where he stands on the legislation, which is designed to protect transgender people — those labeled at birth as one gender who now identify as another — from discrimination in public places such as hospitals, restaurants, shopping malls, theaters, public parks, hotels, and gyms. Critics refer pejoratively to it as “the bathroom bill,” since it would allow transgender people to choose the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable.
The Globe editorial board has called on Baker to state his position in advance of a vote, but just because he didn’t choose to do so at the LGBT event in no way justifies his rude treatment. Why alienate him to that extent? Baker is as socially liberal as it gets for a Republican governor. He supports abortion rights and supports same-sex marriage. As a candidate, he featured his brother, who is gay, in a campaign web video. When the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Baker broke ranks with much of the national GOP and applauded the decision.
Last fall, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce praised him for opening up state contracts to businesses owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. This is the same group that just rescinded plans to honor him at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C. — all because Baker was set to deliver a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring leadership meeting in Las Vegas, along with a controversial pastor who vehemently opposes gay marriage.
The transgender antidiscrimination bill, meanwhile, has been languishing, as House leaders work to build up enough support for a veto-proof vote. As Representative Denise Provost of Somerville, one of the bill’s sponsors, told the State House News Service, extending the bill’s reporting deadline until May 2 — the day before candidates who want to run for a seat in the Legislature must file nomination papers — “is probably the kind of political accommodation that we might necessarily expect.” In other words, House leaders probably want to give their members the comfort of voting for this measure without having to face an opponent with a different view.
Baker said he wants to know the details of what gets passed. That’s a dodge, but it’s still not a veto. Save the boos for when and if that happens.