Transgender Equal Rights Bill Advances in Mass. Legislature

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com November 15 2011 12:25 PM ET

A key committee of the Massachusetts legislature has released the Transgender Equal Rights Bill and recommended that it pass, setting the stage for a vote before lawmakers break for recess this week.

Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry in 2004, but the transgender rights bill has languished in the legislature in various forms for six years. The bill approved by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary for the first time Tuesday morning would “provide essential protections for the transgender community in employment, education, and in situations where people face hate-based violence,” according to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the New England LGBT advocacy organization. However, the bill would not provide protections in “public accommodations” such as public restrooms, a concession designed to bolster support among lawmakers.

“GLAD supports passage of this bill,” said Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, in a statement. “To be sure, the bill is not perfect. It does not include critical protections in public accommodations that the transgender community needs and deserves. We want complete protections for transgender people but also understand political reality. We cannot walk away from the legislature's first step toward securing protections for the most marginalized members of our community. As a member organization of the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition, we stand with our coalition partners in our fight for comprehensive civil rights protections for the transgender community. We will continue our work to educate the legislature on why public accommodations are critical to ensuring that transgender people are fully protected under the law.”



According to the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition, the collection of
groups working to pass the bill, the measure would help protect
approximately 33,000 transgender residents in Massachusetts. The
coalition reports that transgender residents in the state encounter
vastly disproportionate rates of discrimination on the job, while facing
the challenge of lower incomes and higher rates of homelessness
compared to the general population. 

Gov. Deval Patrick has said he would sign the bill into law, according to the Associated Press. Critics, following a pattern in other states that have considered similar legislation, blasted the measure as the “bathroom bill,” and claimed it would threaten privacy in single-gender facilities.

Fifteen states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 cities and towns have passed laws or ordinances to protect transgender people from discrimination.