Momentum Builds for Transgender Bill on Beacon Hill

A public accommodation law with more teeth.

Massachusetts State House via Mass. Office of Tourism.

Massachusetts State House via Mass. Office of Tourism.

With its summer recess over, the legislature is returning to work to tackle some unfinished business.

One of the more prominent pieces of legislation circulating through Beacon Hill right now is a bill that would protect transgender people from rights violations in public places like restaurants, hotels, stores, and other places of public accommodation. The bill would mirror regulations in place in many municipalities across the state.

Last week a group of mayors who have championed similar efforts in the past called on elected leaders on Beacon Hill to support the two bills, S735 and H1577. The group Freedom Massachusetts, co-chaired by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, said that passage of the legislation would send a signal that Massachusetts is on the forefront of inclusion at a time when some states are trying to curtail public accommodation laws.

“Massachusetts serves as a powerful example of inclusivity and acceptance. Passing this legislation will not only preserve the Commonwealth’s reputation, but will send a strong message to families, businesses, and students that this is a state that we all can call home and feel safe,” said the mayors.

Political support for the legislation is not limited to progressive municipal officials. A number of local business leaders, including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, have thrown their support behind the effort according to a report in Monday’s Boston Globe.

The Globe reported that companies big and small like Google, Ropes and Gray, State Street, and Flour Bakery have line up behind the legislation. Even the Massachusetts Hospital Association and YWCA are on board with the legislation.

Not everyone is throwing their support to bill though as groups like the Retailers Association of Massachusetts are skittish about the bill, because it could possibly force small businesses to build restroom facilities that would accommodate transgendered people. Some have derisively called the legislation “the bathroom bill” as a way to discredit it; a similar tactic was used in 2011 for a different rights bill. The Massachusetts Family Institute and affiliated groups have called the legislation “misleading” and claim the legislation would require women only gyms to open up to men.

Governor Charlie Baker is opposed to the bills while House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the gatekeeper of legislation on the hill, is lukewarm on the proposals.

Activists have designated Thursday as a lobbying day for the bills on Beacon Hill.

A hearing on the bill before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary is likely later this fall, possibly October.