Kennedy, Healey push lawmakers to broaden transgender protections

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BOSTON — U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy and state Attorney General Maura Healey appeared at a State House hearing Tuesday to support bills that would increase protections for transgender people.

Before a packed Gardner Auditorium, supporters and opponents spoke out about the measures, which would govern access to public spaces, including gender-segregated restrooms and school locker rooms. Both bills would expand a 2011 law aimed at preventing discrimination against transgender people by extending that protection to cover access to public accommodations.

“There is no explicit protection under the law to protect transgender people in places of public accommodation,” Healey told the lawmakers on the Joint Committee for the Judiciary who are weighing the bills, H 1577 and S 735, sponsored by state Reps. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) and Denise Provost (D-Somerville) and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston).

Healey added that her office has received seven complaints of discrimination toward transgender people since January, and a nonprofit organization, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said it received 42 complaints last year.

Brandon Adams, 14, who socially transitioned to become a boy, told of being bullied at school for wanting to use the boys’ restroom and instead being directed to the staff lavatory, normally off limits to students.

“I’m scared because of who I am. Imagine that,” he said. “I asked to use the boys’ bathroom… I was told no because of the fact that my anatomy was of a girl.”

He said using a segregated bathroom made him feel like a “second-class citizen.”

In commenting on her bill, Chang-Diaz said there is a greater chance of harm to her children if they decide to change their gender identity than there is of a transgender person using a lavatory stall beside one of those children.

Picking up on that theme, Kennedy appealed for tolerance, discussing the approaching birth of his daughter and his desire to protect her from pain and suffering and accept her individuality.

“That’s the world I want for my daughter,” he said. “And that is all that the families sitting next to me today are asking for. The chance to raise their kids, to grow up, to grow old, in a country that promises them the same decency and tolerance the rest of us may take for granted.”

For committee member Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover), the concerns of those who aren’t transgender came to the fore. He questioned Healey about the privacy rights of other individuals, such as children, in a gender-segregated public school restroom.

“The question that I asked … three years ago and I’m asking you folks today, is for the little girl or boy using the bathroom, do their expectations of privacy rights matter? Do the concerns of parents to make sure their kids have privacy, matter?” Lyons said, to applause from opponents of the bills seated in the audience. Lyons also noted the concerns of parents in his comments.

Healey responded that the same privacy and decorum expected of anyone in a restroom would also apply under the proposed law.

“Discomfort is not a reason to perpetuate discrimination,” the Democrat said, to applause from supporters of the measures, most of whom wore green ribbons to reflect their position.

Opponents of the legislation have labeled it “the bathroom bill” and have raised concerns about abuse by sexual predators or the lack of privacy for others, especially children.

Healey cited 17 states and 225 cities and towns that already have similar laws in place and have not reported situations of abuse. In fact, she said, transgender people are more likely to face abuse in such situations.

When lawmakers passed a bill banning discrimination in gender-identity cases in 2011, language regarding the “public accommodations” aspect was removed to speed its passage. Now, more than 60 legislators have co-sponsored the measures, which would add back that language.

Although he supported the 2011 bill, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has repeatedly said that he opposes the addition of the part about access to public spaces. He has insisted that although he doesn’t “want anyone to be discriminated against,” he has concerns about the details of the pending legislation. But Baker has also said he will wait to see the details of these bills, should they pass the House and Senate, before deciding whether to sign them.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or @karabettis