BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D - Pittsfield), announces that the Massachusetts Senate solidified its role as a civil rights leader in passing An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination. This bill provides equal access to public places for every resident of the Commonwealth, regardless of gender identity. Public accommodations include but are not limited to restaurants, nursing homes, coffee shops, grocery stores, and sports arenas.
According to a 2014 Fenway Health survey, 65 percent of Transgender Massachusetts residents reported experiencing discrimination in public spaces including restaurants, retail establishments, and health service centers. This legislation prevents such discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations by adding the phrase “gender identity” to pre-existing law.
“The Senate did the right thing today,” said Senator Downing. “This has all been a long time coming; the work we did to guarantee transgender individuals protection from discrimination in terms of employment and housing two sessions ago, while imperative in its own right, was finally able to cross the finish line today by safeguarding the most basic rights of every person to exist as his or herself peacefully and inclusively within their own communities.”
This bill builds on the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, filed by Downing in 2011, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, education, employment, and credit. Where the final bill in 2011 did not include public accommodations protections, this legislation completes a near decade of advocacy around full inclusion of transgender residents in communities across the Commonwealth.
The bill has received exceptional support from businesses, sports teams, faith leaders, labor unions, and law enforcement across the state. Over the course of the past year more than 200 businesses across the Commonwealth and members of all five New England sports teams came out in support of this bill as central to promoting equal access rights for everyone in Massachusetts.
The bill passed in its original form with a 33-4 vote, with rejection of all but one amendment. The adopted amendment, filed by Senator Chang-Díaz, is an emergency preamble which calls for the legislation to take effect as soon as it becomes law.
More than 200 cities and towns across the country, including 14 in Massachusetts, already have these protections in place. If implemented at the state level, Massachusetts would become the 18th state in the country to offer public accommodations protections to their transgender residents.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.