Transgender ‘Bathroom Bill’ stalls amid Democrats’ questions

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BOSTON – Democrats appear to be hesitant to pass anti-discrimination measures that would protect transgender people’s access to public facilities such as restrooms and changing areas based on their sexual identification rather than their physical gender.

“There are a lot of members who have reservations,” state Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford), the co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, told the State House News Service. Known to opponents as the “Bathroom Bill,” the proposal pending in the House of Representatives, H 1577, remains under that panel’s jurisdiction following a hearing on the matter Oct. 6, as does the Senate version, S 735.

Despite a strong push by Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, and the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, as well as favorable comments from Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and most recently from House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) action on the measure will apparently have to wait until next year. Lawmakers are set to begin a seven-week break Thursday.

Both measures deal with access to public spaces, including in public schools, hospitals, parks and restaurants. They would extend the reach of a 2011 anti-discrimination law preventing discrimination against transgender people. Critics, such as Rep. Jim Lyons (R-Andover), have opposed the changes, citing concerns for the privacy of women and children in bathrooms and locker rooms and the risk that some people could gain access to opposite-sex facilities simply by asserting they identify sexually with that gender at that moment.

“This is about taking away privacy from women and children,” Lyons told the NewBostonPost Tuesday.

Backers had urged lawmakers to vote on the changes before beginning their break, but leading Democrats appeared to douse those hopes with comments about questions and concerns from lawmakers on their side of the aisle.

“I’m not sure what if any changes would be appropriate to the legislation relative to concerns raised by members,” Fernandes told State House News. “We’re trying to work the details out.”

In a remarks to reporters Tuesday, while DeLeo added his voice to those supporting the legislation, he said that a House vote might not occur until next year, and may not take place at all. He said some lawmakers were “looking for more information” on the issue.

Healey and pro-family advocacy group Massachusetts Family Institute battled last week through memos urging lawmakers to back their differing points of view. Transgender activists rallied at the State House in September to encourage passage of the legislation.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter at @karabettis