By John Lynds
Last week the Massachusetts House overwhelmingly passed the controversial landmark legislation regarding public accommodations for transgender people.
While many in opposition stood in the halls of the State House and chanted “no, no, no” with some saying the bill sacrifices the comfort of many for the comfort of few, there was an equal number of people supporting the bill.
As passed, House Bill H.4343, An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination, states, “any public accommodation, including any entity that offers the provision of goods, services, or access to the public, that lawfully segregates or separates access to such public accommodation or other entity based on a person’s sex shall grant all persons admission to and the full enjoyment of such public accommodation or other entity consistent with the person’s gender identity.”
Touted nationwide by opponents as the ‘bathroom bill” the state’s House bill extends rights beyond public bathrooms. While a portion of the bill will allow transgender people to chose bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity it also protects transgender people from discrimination at restaurants and malls.
“We, the Legislature, did not give trans people, the trans community their rights,” State Rep. Byron Rushing told activists after the vote. Rushing was one of the co-sponsors of the bill “You had your rights like we all have our rights because they’re human rights, and we are human beings.”
In response to growing concern that the passage of the bill could be used by male sexual predators to gain access to women’s bathrooms, Attorney General Maura Healey added an amendment that will set regulations or guidance for legal action against any person who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose.
“We have a proud history in Massachusetts of paving the way on issues of civil rights and equality,” said Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement. “Nearly 20 other states have already extended these protections to transgender people. It’s time we do the same. I look forward to having a law on the books that makes clear that everyone is welcome in Massachusetts.”
Governor Charlie Baker has already said he would sign the bill as is and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also voiced his support for the bill.
If signed, the law will take effect on January 1, 2017.
“The Commonwealth has had a proven track record for leading the way in ensuring equal protection under the law for all of its people, and the current statute as it stands now is not reflective of these values that we celebrate.This change is essential,” said Beacon Hill State Rep. Jay Livingstone.