Panel shares experiences of being transgender in Massachusetts
BOSTON >> Chastity Bowick said she was turned away from a restaurant in Mattapan. Alishia Oullette, a retired Danvers firefighter, said she was barred from the women's room at her gym.
The two transgender women were among a panel hosted by key senators at the State House on Tuesday ahead of planned action in the Senate on a bill that would secure access rights for transgender people.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg at the Tuesday event said the Senate would probably take up the bill on May 12 after some "procedural motions and maneuvers" to get it from the Judiciary Committee to the floor.
The bill (H 1577/ S 735) would prohibit discrimination against transgender people from accessing public accommodations such as restaurants and allow transgender people to use the public bathroom or locker room corresponding to their gender identity rather than anatomical sex.
Bowick, a 30-year-old originally from Rochester, N.Y., told the News Service she was denied service when a five-o'clock-shadow was still visible on her face.
"We don't serve your kind," Bowick said she was told before turning and walking out. A manager at the family restaurant told the News Service it was "impossible" that someone would have been discriminated against at the restaurant for being transgender.
Oullette, who is 61 and served in the U.S. Navy, told the News Service she and her partner had been denied service at a bar in Peabody that is now closed.
"The bartender kept ignoring me; wouldn't talk to me; wouldn't take my order." said Oullette. She said, "We just said we're not going to go back there again. I mean at the time we knew we had no real recourse."
After regularly using the women's locker room for therapeutic swimming at a gym, corporate policy shifted, Oullette said, and she was told she could no longer use the women's room.
"I was forced to wear my bathing suit under my workout clothes. I had to change poolside, do my exercises and put my gym clothes back over my wet bathing suit and leave," Oullette said. "I did that for a short period of time until I just couldn't take it anymore. I ended up having a nervous breakdown and ended up leaving the gym."
Oullette now uses a pool that allows her to use the women's locker room, she said.
Andrew Beckwith, who is lobbying against the transgender bill as president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination already enforces against transgender discrimination in public accommodations.
"They already have the right to seek redress," said Beckwith. He said if discrimination against transgender people's access to restaurants is within the bounds of the law, then the commission is "operating outside of the law."
Beckwith pointed to an item in the commission's 2013 annual report that said a complainant identifying as a man, but dressed in women's clothing, was "allegedly subjected to hostile and discriminatory comments" at a restaurant in Norfolk County, and as part of a settlement the restaurant chain agreed to pay the complainant $5,000.
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination chairwoman Jamie Williamson said people file claims "all the time" with her commission related to transgender discrimination, but she said she hasn't personally dealt with any related to access to public places.
"I have not had a public accommodations case. I've had cases where they are employment cases. I've had cases where there are housing cases. So that's more of what I see. I have yet to see any of those come my way, so far," said Williamson, who stopped by the State House forum.
Beckwith said transgender women, whom he refers to as men in women's clothing suffering from a psychological disorder, can use single-stall bathrooms or the men's room.
"To have an anatomical male with a penis and a scrotum getting naked in a locker room with women and young girls, I think, is entirely inappropriate," Beckwith told the News Service.
Attorney General Maura Healey, who has likened the transgender bill to the Civil Rights-era move from racial segregation, had a message for those who don't want to share a restroom with a transgender individual and refer derisively to the legislation as the "bathroom bill."
"If you've got that much of a problem, hold it," Healey said.
The panel Tuesday consisted of transgender people - including Harvard University varsity swimmer Schuyler Bailar - and family members of transgender people who all discussed the risks of suicide for transgender people.
Bailar said he was happier now even though he could have performed better as a swimmer competing against women.
"I don't feel weighted down by anything because I'm not hiding anything," Bailar said.
Bowick said the legislation would have a major positive impact on the young transgender women she mentors who she said are afraid to look for jobs.
"This will ensure them that you can go anywhere you want to go and nobody can tell you to leave," Bowick said.
Antonio Caban contributed reporting.