DeLeo: Massachusetts House caucus in works on transgender bill

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BOSTON — On the same day that transgender rights advocates rallied in support of a bill that would ban gender-identity discrimination in public places, a legislative commission released a report calling for policies its members say would ease the isolation and prejudice faced by older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults.

The Massachusetts Special Commission on LGBT Aging report recommends legislation that would mandate "cultural competency training" for state-funded aging, long-term support and housing services and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and HIV status in elder housing and services.

It also urges the passage of a bill currently before the Legislature, which would guarantee equal access to public places regardless of gender identity. On Wednesday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the News Service he plans to hold a caucus on transgender legislation and will "try" to make that happen in the next few weeks.

Proponents of that measure (S 735 and H 1577) spent Wednesday lobbying lawmakers to support their cause, which more than 100 Massachusetts companies are now backing. Facebook has become the latest corporate entity come out in favor of the bill, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition Executive Director Mason Dunn announced during the lobbying event.

The bills seek to include gender identity as a category that is protected against discrimination in all places open to the general public, including restaurants, hotels, stores and transportation facilities.

"You are not coming here to ask for rights, but to ask for a guarantee to rights you already have," Assistant House Majority Leader Byron Rushing told the crowd. Rushing, a Democrat from Boston's South End, filed the House version of the public accommodations bill, along with Somerville Democrat Rep. Patricia Jehlen.

That bill was referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in January. A Senate version of the bill, filed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, has been in front of the committee since April.

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In 2012, former Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law protections against gender-identity discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit and hate crimes. Advocates on Thursday called that a victory that left work to be done, saying that they are continuing to push for legal protections and civil rights.

The Rev. Cameron Partridge, the Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a transgender man, told a story of a stranger at a public meeting harassing him about his gender and right to use the men's restroom about a year and a half ago, a moment he said made the urgency of passing the bill hit home.

"This encounter was not simply about differences of opinion, disrespect or hurt feelings," Partridge said. "It was about vulnerability, profound vulnerability. It was about personal safety, it was about access to public space and more specifically, it was about how our access to public spaces or lack thereof can affirm our dignity or undermine it in a moment."

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he wants to see action on the bill "hopefully sooner than later," saying that lawmakers were "morally bound to take this path" and build on the legislation that went into place three years ago.

Speaking during the launch of the LGBT aging report Thursday morning, Sen. Jehlen said the provisions of the public accommodations bill matter to seniors as well, recounting an instance in which a western Massachusetts family could not find a nursing home that would accept their relative, a transgender woman. Eventually, Jehlen said, one nursing home offered to convert a windowless closet into a room for her.

The report's recommendations also include education for health providers, social workers, residents of senior housing and senior center attendees; outreach programs to better inform the LGBT population about elder and veterans services; and the development of a rating system that gauges whether organizations are LGBT-inclusive.

Members of the commission want to see the Executive Office of Health and Human Services create the post of LGBT ombudsperson, which would ensure LGBT elders see their concerns reflected in human services networks. The report calls on the health and human services office, Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Department of Housing and Community Development to collect confidential and voluntary data on gender identity and sexual orientation, to measure progress in meeting the needs of the LGBT aging population.

Rosenberg said he was "hoping and assuming" that the some of the report's recommendation would turn into bills the Legislature could advance, and that they could work with the administration to "execute as much of it as quickly as possible" through executive order and regulatory changes.


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