House passes act relative to transgender discrimination

On Wednesday, June 1, 2016, the Massachusetts’s House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass H4343, An Act relative to transgender anti-discrimination. With this vote, the House solidified its role as a civil rights leader and passed legislation that provides equal access to public places for every resident of the Commonwealth, regardless of gender identity. Public accommodations include, but are not limited to, restaurants, nursing homes, coffee shops, grocery stores and sports arenas. At its core, this legislation simply prevents discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations by adding the phrase “gender identity” to pre-existing law.

I supported H4343 because it was the right thing to do. I am committed to the principle that everyone deserves to live without fear of discrimination simply for being who they are. The decision to support the bill was made after lengthy research, participation in robust hearings, discussions and deliberations, and careful and due consideration of each communication received on the topic.

The decision also rested on the personal and often heart-wrenching testimony of individuals who shared stories of anxiety, depression, and despair. The reality is that transgender people are too often the victims of harassment and violent crime. According to a 2014 Fenway Health survey, 65 percent of transgender Massachusetts residents reported experiencing discrimination in public spaces including restaurants, retail establishments, and health service centers. This bill will enhance public safety and hopefully bring an end to fears and apprehension that have arisen from these unfortunate acts.

H4343 builds on the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, passed in 2011, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, education, employment and credit. It completes a near decade of advocacy around full inclusion of transgender residents in communities across the Commonwealth and it closes the loophole and protects transgender persons in public areas. Massachusetts adds itself to a rapidly expanding list of towns, states, and companies that have addressed the need to protect the transgender community.

It has received exceptional support from businesses, sports teams, faith leaders, labor unions and law enforcement across the state. Over the course of the past year, more than 200 Massachusetts businesses and members of all five major New England sports teams came out in support of this bill as central to promoting equal access rights for everyone in Massachusetts.

Many places of public accommodation in Massachusetts already have policies that do not allow discrimination based on gender identity. In 2002, only three percent of Fortune 500 companies had protections in place for transgender employees’ today, more than 75 percent do. The sampling of those businesses contacted report no problems and have indicated that this is a good business policy. These places include restaurants like Olive Garden, Capital Grille, and corporate-owned McDonald’s; retailers like Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, and the Gap; healthcare providers like Tufts Medical Center and Harvard Pilgrim; banks like Eastern Bank and State Street; and fitness centers like Planet Fitness and the YWCA.

The experience of these places of public accommodation doing business in Massachusetts is born out in other states with public accommodations protections of been in place for years, and sometimes decades. Minnesota, where this discrimination has been prohibited since 1993, reports no incidents of an individual asserting gender identity protection as a defense to improper or illegal conduct. None of the other 17 states and the District of Columbia which provide similar transgender protections have reported such an incident.

On May 12, 2016 the Massachusetts’s Senate passed its own version of the legislation. The two bills will be sent to a conference committee for reconciliation. The most significant difference between the House and Senate versions pertains to a topic that was raised consistently by opponents to the bill. Under the House version, which has the support of Governor Baker, the Attorney General must issue guidelines regarding assertion of gender identity for an improper purpose to law enforcement should that situation arise.

I thank everyone who called, wrote, or otherwise weighed in on this topic. With your help Massachusetts continues its legacy as an active opponent of discrimination and a pioneer in equality.

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