In an interview with reporters on Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker clarified his stance on the state's proposed trans rights legislation after being booed offstage the prior evening by LGBT activists.
On Wednesday, Baker spoke to local business leaders at 10th Annual Boston Spirit LGBT Executive Networking Night but declined to take a stance on House Bill 1577 and Senate Bill 735. CNN reports that these bills--among other provisions--would allow transgender people equal access in all public accommodations. If the legislation passes, that means trans folks would be permitted statewide to use the restroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity.
"If and when [the bill] lands on my desk, I'll talk to all parties involved," Baker told the Wednesday crowd. As the Boston Heraldreports, his comments were not well-received. The crowd immediately began chanting: "Sign the bill!"
According to the Boston Globe, the governor reaffirmed his neutral position the following day. "I've made very clear that I don't believe that we should discriminate against anybody in Massachusetts, and I've also made very clear that we take seriously whatever legislation comes before us on this issue," Baker told press. He added that "as a general rule, we don't take positions on legislation that's pending before the legislature."
The Globe, however, pointed out that statement is misleading. Baker has taken definite stances on legislation in the past. The newspaper reports that Baker "put his political weight behind... a bill to allow more charter schools in Massachusetts, as well as energy bills incentivizing the use of solar and hydro power."
Trans activists in Massachusetts told the Boston Herald that Baker's continued inaction on the "long-stalled bill" is a bad sign. "His silence to us is a de facto promise that he will veto," said Lorelei Erisis, an Ayer resident who came to hear the governor speak out on trans rights. "I hoped to be a Gov. Baker fan. I wanted to be optimistic." She further called his Wednesday appearance "one of the most politically tone-deaf speeches I've ever heard."
The LGBT backlash is bad timing for the governor. Last week, the Boston Globe reported that National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce nix a speech Baker was scheduled to give at a Washington D.C. gala in late April. "The chamber was angered over Baker's decision to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition's spring meeting last weekend in Las Vegas, which included staunch conservatives such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Pastor John Hagee, who vociferously opposes gay marriage," the Globe said.
Baker is a moderate Republican who supports marriage equality, but those facts may do little to quell the concerns of critics who believe more action is needed on trans rights in the state.
According to MassLive, the state already has nondiscrimination protections in place for "employment, education, and housing" but not in other areas. Currently, there's a "loophole" in Massachusetts law that would protect, for instance, the trans barista who serves coffee but not the trans customer who purchases it. HB 1577 and SB 735 would fill that gap.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg told the Boston Herald the bill could be debated in the state's Congress as early as May.