July 8, 2016 at 4:08 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Massachusetts governor signs trans non-discrimination bill

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Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) has signed into law a pro-trans non-discrimination bill. (Photo by the Rappaport Center; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law on Friday legislation prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in the state at public accommodations, including restrooms and locker rooms.

“No one should be discriminated against in Massachusetts because of their gender identity,” Baker said in a statement. “This compromise legislation extends additional protections to the Commonwealth’s transgender community, and includes language to address the public safety concerns expressed by some by requiring the attorney general to issue regulations to protect against people abusing the law.”

The new law, Senate Bill 2407, amends the prohibition on discrimination in public accommodations under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act to include gender identity. The law requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the attorney general’s office issue regulations under the law no later than September 1. The law itself takes effect on October 1.

In 2011, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signed into a law a measure barring anti-trans discrimination in the state in housing, employment, credit and post-secondary education. However, the measure excluded protections in public accommodations. The addition of non-discrimination rules in public accommodations based on gender identity provides coverage to transgender people in Massachusetts in all aspects of state civil rights law.

Baker, a Republican, signaled in May he would sign a measure barring anti-trans discrimination in public accommodations, but wasn’t always on board with the idea. During an initial failed gubernatorial run in 2010, Baker as a candidate campaigned against transgender protections.

In April, Baker was booed from the stage at an LGBT networking event hosted by Boston Spirit magazine for refusing to declare support for the transgender rights measure.

Steve Boswell, CEO of the Boston-based Fenway Health, commended Baker in a statement for signing the measure into law.

“This marks an important moment in the Commonwealth,” Boswell said. “Everyone, regardless of their gender identity, deserves full and fair protection from discrimination. The benefits of being able to exercise civil rights in public spaces such as restaurants, hospitals and public transit impact an individual’s ability to work, to participate in community life and even their ability to manage their health.”

As a result of Baker signing the measure, 18 states as well as D.C. have laws prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

A total of three states — Wisconsin, New York and New Hampshire — have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity, in employment, housing and public accommodations. (Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order interpreting the state’s prohibition on gender discrimination to apply to transgender people.)

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Baker joins an increasing number of Republicans who support LGBT rights by signing the measure.

“By signing this bipartisan legislation into law, Governor Baker has joined the growing list of fair-minded Republicans who are standing up for equality,” Griffin said. “Equality is not a Republican or Democratic value, it’s an American value. This crucially important measure will help ensure transgender Bay State residents and visitors are protected from discrimination in public spaces.”

Baker signs the measure as use of public restrooms by transgender people has stirred controversy at the national level. In March, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 2, which prohibits transgender people from using the public restrooms in schools and government buildings consistent with their gender identity.

Kasey Suffredini, chief program officer of Freedom for All Americans and co-chair of Freedom Massachusetts, said Baker has “bucked a national trend of political attacks against the transgender community” by signing the pro-trans measure into law.

“This tremendous victory is a testament to the transformative power of story telling,” Suffredini said. “Since this bill was first introduced nine years ago, transgender people courageously have come forward to educate lawmakers about our experiences with discrimination and to dispel myths and stereotypes about who we are. The leadership of our legislature, attorney general, and governor shows that they have listened. The important public education we have done here will serve as a model to other states that are only now beginning the conversation about transgender equality.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Proves that gender identity wasn’t part of the original movement as people try and sell me. Massachusetts banned sexual orientation discrimination back in 1989 but did not mention trans or gender identity. It’s not until now that it’s banning gender identity discrimination.

    If Gender Identity had been part of the original movement, they would have not accepted the law as was passed in 1989 as they won’t accept an ENDA without it now.

  • Massachusetts should have been the FIRST state to pass this kind of legislation, leading the nation, not just falling into line.

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