Transgender Access to Public Accommodations

Update on May 13, 2016

We passed this legislation yesterday in the Senate! Read more here.

The legislature is considering legislation to complete the work we started a couple of years ago to provide full legal protection to transgender people.  The main unfinished business is to prohibit discrimination in access to public accommodations.

Public accommodations include, for example, hospitals, retail stores, restaurants, hotels and transportation facilities.  Our previous legislation prevents a restaurant from refusing to hire a transgender woman as a waitress because of her gender expression, but would still allow the restaurant to refuse to serve her if she walked in as a customer.

At our recent hearing on the bill, dozens of transgender people testified to the discrimination they routinely face.  Some of the most troubling testimony involved discrimination in access to health care, but the testimony spoke to discrimination in the full range of public spaces where most of us take safe access for granted.

This discrimination can be every bit as pervasive and destructive as the discrimination that African-Americans have experienced and still experience, even though it does not occur as the historical sequel to slavery.  Transgender people, especially transgender young people, often don’t have the benefit of supportive peers or family and have to bear the crushing burden of discrimination entirely on their own, resulting in exceptionally high rates of depression and suicide.

Opponents of the legislation have zeroed in on the issue of access to bathrooms and locker rooms, a fraction of the access that the legislation would protect, referring to the legislation as the “bathroom bill” and suggesting that it would give predators access to ladies rooms.    The bill really assures that people can go to the bathroom in which they belong according to their identity. Transgender women pose no threat to non-transgender women; like non-transgender women they internally identify as women.

Attorney General Healey testifed eloquently on the safety issue, documenting that in other jurisdictions where transgender people have full protections in public facilities there have been no known instances of predators using the cover offered by the law to behave inappropriately.  She provided letters from other states and from the police chiefs of 13 Massachusetts cities and towns that have local non-discrimination ordinances.  Of course, any person behaving in an inappropriate way in a bathroom can get thrown out of the bathroom for doing so and the proposed law will not change that.

What is really contrary to public safety is requiring transgender women to go to the men’s room where they would be deeply embarrassed and humiliated and at real risk of molestation.  Transgender women do get harassed just like women who were designated female at birth.  They are vastly more likely to be victimized than to be victimizers.

One of the ironies of the recent hearing was that so many of the people raising the concern about women’s safety and privacy in bathrooms were men purporting to speak for women — a female executive of the Boston YWCA, who testified late in the hearing, emphasized this irony and affirmed that their facilities are open to all women — whether or not they were assigned female sex at birth.

I am a cosponsor and I have long been a supporter of this legislation.

Here are some editorial and background materials:

  1. Freedom Massachusetts advocacy materials.
  2. GLAD overview of the state of the law.
  3. Boston Globe Editorial.
  4. Follow up letter from Attorney General Healy.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

17 replies on “Transgender Access to Public Accommodations”

  1. I am in favor of clearing up the discrepancies in the current law and allowing all transgender people the same rights as anyone else. Thank you for drawing our attention to this legislation!

  2. thank you Senator Brownsberger,
    as a transgender woman who’s transitioned I’ve seen first hand the discrimination that takes place. I applaud you for your reasonable understanding.

    I was just sent to prison without due process without a trial judge convicted and sentenced held without bail from 60 days before my case went to trial and I’m found innocent no because I asked for my civil rights and complained about a CJC charge and the CJC committee and like Omar city but the best interest to political interests and professional interests of this family court in CJC number I had to return to sender child’s medical needs and best interest and I find that simply despicable

    Christine Connelly
    Author.. My First Red Sox Game
    an abused and alienated father
    … and an innocent unconvicted ex-convict

    I would like to come in and talk to you about this incident at your earliest convenience and ask for suggestions on what to do

  3. Thank you for your support of this bill. I worry about my transgender friends, especially the women. I have learned from conversations with both trans men and trans women that it is harder for women to “pass,” and they are at greater risk of harassment and physical harm. I am also concerned for trans students at the college where I work. Laws to support civil rights should not be needed, but they are.

  4. There are two points I want to make.
    First, it is just NOT FAIR that it is legally OK to discriminate against and treat us transgender girls badly!!! Why us?
    Secondly, this bill is much more important than being a “Bathroom Bill”. The only time I was bothered in a Ladies room was from a 250 lb. unattractive women who insisted that I got all dressed up just so I could go in there and “look” at her. NO, that was NOT the case.

  5. Thank you for your clear description of the issue and your strong support of civil rights. I firmly believe this type of anti-discrimination law will literally save lives.

  6. Here is a real-life example of 150 high school girls protesting because a boy who merely “thinks” he is a girl wants to use the girls’ locker room:

    In other words, the thinking of the people who want this transgender law in Massachusetts is that the “rights” of this one(1) boy should override that of the 150 girls.
    That’s the logic that drives this bill. Of course, it is flat out crazy and disrespectful to the majority who feel uncomfortable.

    An incident like this also happened at the Pine Street Inn in Boston.

    Perhaps those women in Belmont who like this proposed bill should visit the Pine Street Inn, go into the women’s room, and we’ll see their reaction when a man walks in.

    Imagine yourself, ladies, on a lonely rest stop on a superhighway at night when a burly transgender trucker strolls into the stall next to you.

    Seems to me we sometimes have “rights” backwards.

    1. The news story you cited makes me ill. History will show those 150 girls to be deeply misguided and misled by the bigotry of their elders. I support the rights of transgender persons to use the bathroom facilities of their choice. I am teaching my children to celebrate others’ differences.
      As for your rest stop scenario — I don’t see how it is in any way applicable or even logical. I don’t care about the physical appearance of the person in the stall next to me — as a matter of fact, I try very hard to limit my social interactions in bathrooms.

  7. Thank you so much for your sponsorship and clear articulation of why we need this bill. I have a young friend in high school who would directly benefit from this. Imagine never being able to use restrooms in public. In order to feel safe this student often has to wait to get home just to pee. If I had to do that I would hardly be able to go out! It’s time to fix this.

  8. Thank you for supporting this bill. Stay steadfast and don’t listen to the folks who say transgender students shouldn’t use the facility they want to use based on their gender identity.

  9. Thank you for supporting this important civil rights bill. I live in Northampton MA, a community with many transgender and genderqueer citizens, who are brave and wonderful people and deserve the same rights as everyone else!

  10. Thank you for your support in pushing for rights and protections for our Transgenders brothers and sisters. It is so important that this bill goes through. And yet, it is just a start in ensuring protections and equality for those in the Transgender community. One of my close friends who is Trans, and faces regular harassment from random bullies on the street, worries about one day finding herself in a brawl that ends her on the wrong side of the law–and in a cell on the men’s side. Until laws are in place explicitly protecting Transgendered Identifying people, that may very well happen. Further exacerbating the damage to self-esteem and psyche, not to mention exposing Trans people to further violence.

  11. Thank you for your vigorous and cogent advocacy for this bill. Too bad some are focused on fears that are overblown and lack a basis in reality. Hopefully, the right time for such justice will not be long away.

  12. great news.people with same plumbing at birth should use facilities designed for them.

  13. Dear Senator,

    Thank you for your courage to support and speak to these essential civil rights for transgender people. May the bill pass and be a beacon to end the discrimination and violence that they face.


Comments are closed.