Attorney General Healey presses for transgender rights bill

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BOSTON >> For Attorney General Maura Healey, few Beacon Hill fights feel quite as personal as the stalled effort to toughen civil rights protections for the state's transgender population.

Healey gathered with parents and their transgender children this week to talk about what she called "a really asinine situation" — that fact that while businesses can't legally discriminate against transgender people in hiring, they can refuse to serve them.

Toward the end of the meeting, Healey choked up briefly.

"I am bothered," Healey said, her voice quavering. "I am frustrated personally by some of the stonewalling, some of the efforts to stymie (by creating) confusion about what this is about."

At issue is legislation to expand a 2011 Massachusetts law banning discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing by also banning discrimination in restaurants, malls and other public accommodations, including restrooms.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, both Democrats, support the change.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker isn't so sure.

Baker said he supports nondiscrimination in Massachusetts but stopped short of endorsing the legislation.

"The details on this one are important," Baker told reporters Monday. "I know the Legislature's been working on it, and we look forward to seeing what they produce."

Baker wouldn't say if he'd veto the bill. DeLeo said he's not sure he has the votes to override a veto.

Some of those attending Healey's meeting urged lawmakers to force Baker's hand.

"Let's call it what it is. There's this one reason why we're all here and not celebrating that this law has passed, and his name is Charlie Baker," said Joe Lemay, who attended the meeting with his wife, Mimi, daughter, Ella, and 6-year-old transgender son, Jacob.

"(Baker) wants to cater to the people who want to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt that letting a transgender woman use the bathroom is a dangerous thing. We all know that that's not true," Lemay said. "A transgender woman is a woman, should be treated as such, and given that dignity."

"He gets to walk around with 100 percent of his dignity," Lemay added.

State Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat, said Baker is being "purposefully ambivalent."

"He is making this eventful," she said. "He is making this difficult."

Jeanne Talbot and her 14-year-old transgender daughter Nicole said they met recently with Baker.

"I didn't leave that meeting with a high degree of confidence at all," Jeanne Talbot said.

The state's two largest teachers' unions — the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers — recently announced they back the legislation, as have businesses including State Street Corporation, Eastern Bank and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, where Baker was a former CEO.

Nancy Nangeroni of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition said lawmakers should vote.

"I would rather see it go to (Baker's) office and I'd rather see him take it on himself to stop it, instead of the way he's stopping it right now," Nangeroni said. "He isn't bearing any responsibility for holding up this legislation."

Opponents — including the Massachusetts Family Institute — say the bills would endanger the privacy and safety of women and children in public bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms, and allow sexual predators to claim confusion about their gender to gain access to private areas.

At a Statehouse hearing in November, Andover Republican state Rep. James Lyons said the change could allow a 14- or 15-year-old boy to decide he is female and walk into a girl's locker room.

"What about those parents who are concerned?" Lyons said at the hearing.

Supporters say those fears are unfounded. Healey said 17 other states have approved similar laws without incident.

"When it comes to civil rights it is always about the tyranny of a majority over a minority, over a disempowered, dispossessed, marginalized population," Healey said. "I am tired of it, frankly fed up with it."


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