What’s It Going to Take to Pass This Transgender Rights Bill?
The anti-discrimination bill sputtering on Beacon Hill at the moment seeks to provide transgender people in Massachusetts with equal access to public places, regardless of gender identity, which is already the status quo in 13 of its cities and towns. The bill enjoys the unwavering support of the state’s Democratic power-players: Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and the congressional delegation. They are joined by a number of police chiefs and 170 companies in the private sector, including Google and Eastern Bank.
And yet, the most recent legislative session waned to a close without passage of the bill. What gives?
Even in a state as progressive as Massachusetts, which became the first in the U.S. to issue same-sex marriage licenses in 2004, transgendered people face enormous discrimination. Local data from the 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, for example, revealed that 52 percent of transgender adults had experienced verbal abuse in a place of public accommodation, while nearly a quarter reported harassment in their interactions with police.
The legislation that passed two years ago not only added gender identity protection to its hate crime laws, but also made it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, K-12 public education, and credit based on gender identity. Still, there’s no protection from discrimination in public places, which this latest transgender rights bill aims to obtain.
As detailed by the Globe‘s David Scharfenberg, the bill faces both a looming threat of a veto from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has yet to make his stance on the legislation abundantly clear, paired with a rash of cold feet amongst the Legislature’s moderate Democrats, who only wish to cast an affirmative with the assurance of a veto-proof majority. House Speaker Robert DeLeo ultimately declined to move the bill, which will be picked next session—the first half of an election year, when cold feet only grow colder.
Opponents of legislation like this bill, like those who defeated a similar ordinance in Houston last month, propagate a dangerous, politically potent myth that providing an extra layer of anti-discrimination protection for trans people would somehow lead to cis-male miscreants barging into women’s restrooms and committing assault, despite there being no reports of this never happening anywhere in the U.S. where such laws are on the books.
“Public bathrooms should be a place of privacy, modesty and security, but the new transgender rights law is being exploited to change all that,” the Woburn-based Massachusetts Family Institute, which has testified in opposition to the transgender rights bill, says in a handout. “Although legislators promised that it ‘wasn’t a bathroom bill,’ transgender activists are already using it to force their way into bathrooms and locker-rooms in the public schools.”
It seems all it would take is a little courage atop Beacon Hill to get this thing through. Sadly, that tends to be tough to come by.