Transgender Access to Public Accommodations (17 Responses)

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.

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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District