Baker says court system can stand up against discrimination


BOSTON >> With a bill pending in the Legislature that would grant additional rights to transgender individuals, Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday suggested the court system provides a capable defense against discrimination.

"I've met with folks who've told me stories about individual incidents, but as I said, I don't believe anybody should be discriminated against, and if anybody is we have a court system in Massachusetts that I believe can stand up for them," Baker told reporters after an event in the State House.

Matt Wilder, a spokesman for Freedom Massachusetts, the campaign seeking added protections, said a change in law would be required to ensure the courts rule against transgender discrimination.

"The push for this law would ensure that when this is before the court the law will explicitly define the action as illegal," Wilder wrote in an email.

At the event where Baker announced a policy to promote more opportunities for businesses owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals, the governor was joined at the bottom of the Grand Staircase by Rep. Byron Rushing, a sponsor of legislation that would prohibit discrimination against transgender people using sex-segregated public accommodations.

Massachusetts was the first state to recognize same-sex marriage, though it has not joined in on adding the transgender protections adopted by many of its neighbors in the Northeast.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights found the largest high school district in Illinois violated the law because a transgender student who identified as a girl was denied equal access to the girls' locker room, according to reports.

In New York last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued regulations providing anti-discrimination protections to transgender people, and according to the group Freedom Massachusetts, with the governor's action the Empire State became the 18th in the country "with full protections for transgender people."

Asked if New York's action adds pressure on him and others, the Swampscott Republican said, "I'm proud of Massachusetts's track record on all issues associated with discrimination and human rights, and I don't believe anybody should be discriminated against, and I think the Commonwealth has a sterling record on these issues."

Massachusetts and New Hampshire are the only New England states that do not provide transgender people protection against discrimination in sex-segregated facilities, according to Freedom Massachusetts. In addition to New York — the first state to adopt the protections through executive order — the following states have the transgender protections, according to Freedom Massachusetts: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.

Bills (H 1577 /S 735) filed by Rushing, Rep. Denise Provost and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, all Democrats from Boston and Somerville, would build on a 2011 law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in jobs, housing and credit.

Those skeptical or opposed to the bill worry about the reactions of students and others required to use locker rooms with transgender people, a concern that Attorney General Maura Healey likened to the era of racial segregation at a hearing on the bills in early October.

"People were uncomfortable sharing pools and sharing drinking fountains. Discomfort is not a reason to perpetuate discrimination," Healey said.

While the bill has the support of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Speaker Robert DeLeo has withheld judgement and Baker has said he has "some concerns getting away from current law going forward but as I've said several times I want to see the details of the bill."


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