On Tuesday, The Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard public testimony on the Transgender Equal Access.
The bill would add non-discrimination protections for transgender people in public accommodations – effectively all of the places one travels between home, work and school, including public transportation and health care facilities. Current civil rights law already protects transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, credit and public education, and makes crimes committed against transgender people subject to treatment as hate crimes.
Jennifer Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), testified that the laws prohibiting discrimination have “left a void, however, in basic guarantees of equality provided to transgender people,”
“The void in the current law sends the signal that transgender people’s lives are less worthy than others’,” Levi stated. “It is also bad for business because it means that transgender people may be inhibited from regularly engaging in commerce throughout the Commonwealth.
Testimony was offered by Mass. Commission Against Discrimination Commissioner Julian Tynes, the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, UNITE HERE Local 26, Eastern Bank, the National Association of Social Workers, business owners, and others. Congressman Joe Kennedy, III has submitted written testimony.
“We are trying to be good parents to our son. It is our responsibility to protect him and to make sure he is treated fairly,” says “A,” the mother an 11-year-old transgender boy, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect her son’s privacy. “However, we face discrimination everywhere, from the healthcare system to the barber shop. We just want our son to be able to enjoy the same activities that other kids do, without worrying that he’ll be excluded or mistreated. That’s why we hope the legislature will pass the Equal Access Bill.”
Of the 17 states with transgender non-discrimination laws, Massachusetts is the only one that does not provide public accommodations protections.
“Unequal treatment in our state’s civil rights laws undermines their very purpose,” said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality. “Excluding transgender people from the public accommodations portion of our non-discrimination laws creates a two-tiered system of protections. To paraphrase Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the transgender community gets ‘skim-milk’ civil rights protections, which sends the message it is still okay to discriminate against them. There aren’t exceptions in our civil rights protections for women, racial minorities, or disabled people, and there must be no exceptions for transgender people, either. The Equal Access Bill is urgently needed to close this gap in our laws.”
“Like any of our other members, our transgender members use all of the facilities of the gym including the weight rooms, locker rooms, the classroom, and the cardio room. And, like any of our other members, they are there to work out, to push themselves and to be healthy,” said Mike Cuellar of Mike’s Fitness JP. We have not had a problem or a complaint about any issues in the locker rooms related to safety or privacy. I am very proud that we are seen as a welcoming and friendly environment for everyone, including the transgender community.”
The Joint Committee on the Judiciary now must vote on whether to pass the Equal Access Bill out of committee and onto the full House and Senate for debate.