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Rights Activists Applaud Massachusetts' Public Accommodations Law

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey speaks in Boston Monday.
Twitter: @MassAGO
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey speaks in Boston Monday.

Adding its voice to what has become a national debate in the past few months, Massachusetts recently passed a public accommodations law guaranteeing equal protection for transgender people.The law allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities. Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law after the Democratic-run legislature hammered out a compromise. State Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, released a YouTube video directed toward the legislation’s supporters shortly after the signing.

“Five months ago with your help we launched a campaign to protect the transgender community from discrimination in public places,” Healey said. “You shared your messages of support. You shared your experiences. You told your stories. So today I just want to say ‘thank you.’ Because of you, transgender people are now legally protected from discrimination no matter where they go in Massachusetts.”

Kasey Suffredini is a campaign co-chair with Freedom Massachusetts, which has worked with a number of other organizations to push the legislation. The group cites studies showing that a majority of the estimated 75,000 transgender people in Massachusetts reported being discriminated against in areas considered public accommodations.

“For transgender people in Massachusetts it is a new day,” Suffredini said. “It is a day when they not only know that the entire government of Massachusetts has their backs, symbolically, but they also know that as a matter of law they can go anywhere in public that anybody else goes and they can take for granted that they are welcomed there.”

Some opponents raised concerns about privacy rights and men going into women’s bathrooms, leading some to call the legislation “the bathroom bill.” Governor Baker says those concerns have been addressed by requiring the state attorney general to issue regulations and advise law enforcement on how to deal with anyone who claims gender identity for an "improper purpose." State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, a Democrat from Pittsfield, says the provisions do address the concerns although she believes they are unfounded.

“There was a time that it was said that ‘You don’t want your sister, mother or daughter to be in the bathroom with a black person because they might catch some kind of a disease,’” Farley-Bouvier said in reference to the civil rights movement in the 1960s. “Then when it was about gay rights, it was ‘Well you got to be careful. What’s going to happen in the locker room if you’re in the locker room with a gay person?’ Now again when it came to transgender rights the last hill that was fought was the bathroom.”

Suffredini, who is a transgender man, says instructing the attorney general to issue guidance is unnecessary.

“There are 17 other states that have had these protections in place for decades and there are 200 cities,” Suffredini said. “We’ve never seen an uptick in the kinds of incidents that folks are concerned about. But, the AG I’m sure will use the opportunity to make sure that everybody is safe in exercising their rights under this law including transgender people. So we certainly don’t have any concern about the language being included.”

The legislation also requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to create guidelines to help businesses comply with the law. Support for the legislation over the past several months included a social media campaign that used “#everyonewelcome.” It featured videos from sports figures like Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.

“Our team that everyone should be treated equally wherever they go,” Farrell said. “Transgender people deserve the same rights as everyone else in Massachusetts and everyone is welcome at Fenway Park.”

“No one should be called names, denied service or attacked simply because they are transgender,” Jenner said. “That’s why this bill is so important. Because everyone should be welcome in the great state of Massachusetts.”

The law goes into effect October 1.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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