‘Bathroom Bill’ given legislative push, with revisions

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/04/30/bathroom-bill-given-legislative-push-with-revisions/

BOSTON – Massachusetts legislative leaders took steps Friday to push through a “bathroom bill” that would ensure access to public restrooms and locker rooms  to transgender people based on their gender identity rather than their anatomy, adding language to one version that would guide law-enforcement action against anyone “who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose.”

The revised version is pending in the House of Representatives, according to the Associated Press. It said the redrafted House bill includes the enforcement provision apparently as a way to appease concerns raised by critics who said the original bill would jeopardize the privacy and safety of women and children. Supporters of the measure say those concerns are baseless.

At the Massachusetts Family Institute, leaders weren’t buying it.

“This version of the bill is essentially the same, as it still offers no protections to women and children who don’t want to be eyed by or exposed to naked men in locker rooms or other intimate spaces,” Jonathan Alexandre, legal counsel for the institute, told AP.

The news service said Alexandre objected to giving Attorney General Maura Healey regulatory powers, saying Healey, an outspoken supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, has been dismissive of objections from the bill’s opponents. Healey, a Boston resident who was the first openly gay woman to be elected attorney general, has strongly supported the original measure.

Both versions of the bill would expand on a 2011 statute that bans discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing. The redrafted bill would let the state attorney general provide “guidance or regulations” to law enforcement, including how to deal with assertions of gender identity for “an improper purpose,” AP reported.

“I’d honestly like to know how she plans to keep my daughters safe if this bill she is supporting is passed,” Andrew Beckwith, the family institute’s president, said in a statement posted on the organization’s website Friday, referring to Healey. “I hope the governor will have the good sense, and the courage, to veto it should it come to that.”

“Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, however, just made it clear yesterday that she is not concerned about privacy and safety for our daughters when it comes to bathrooms,” Beckwith said in the statement.

“Addressing a panel at the State House celebrating the ‘Transgender Day of Visibility,’ Healey told attendees that she was ‘particularly troubled’ by people who refer to that same bill Governor Baker will not promise to sign as a ‘Bathroom Bill,’” he said. Until recently, he went on, “no one would have contested that it was the man with the ‘gender dysphoria’ who had a problem, and if he didn’t feel comfortable using the restroom consistent with his anatomy, then perhaps he should just ‘hold it’ until he got home or had access to a single occupancy facility.”

The issue of guaranteeing access to restrooms and locker rooms in public places including schools has touched a nerve nationwide in recent years. A law passed in North Carolina in March stirred an outcry against the Republican lawmakers who supported it and Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed it, and spurred businesses to back off plans to expand in the state while performers such as Bruce Springsteen have canceled shows there.

On Beacon Hill, Baker, a Republican elected to his first term in 2014, hasn’t said whether he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. He reportedly remained on the fence Friday.

“Governor Baker believes no one should be discriminated against based on gender identity and appreciates the added clarity that the House’s revisions provide into how the provision would be implemented across the commonwealth,” Tim Buckley, a spokesman, told the Globe Friday.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who is also openly gay, reiterated his plan to debate the original measure in the upper chamber next month, in a statement on Twitter.com. He said it was “Crucial we end discrimination” and move the bill to Baker.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, praised the revisions in the version pending in his chamber, H 1577.

“The updated provisions will help protect transgender individuals from harassment & ensure that biz are properly implementing the law,” he said on Twitter.

“This bill is the result of extensive conversations with members, advocates and the business community,” DeLeo also said, in a statement to the State House News Service.

“I am proud that through these discussions, the House has strengthened this important piece of legislation,” he said, State House News reported. “It is my belief that the provisions related to the Attorney General and MCAD will help prevent transgender individuals from being harassed and ensure that businesses have the guidance they need to properly implement the law.”

Freedom Massachusetts, a transgender rights advocacy group, told the AP the movement on the issue was encouraging.

“We do have some questions about the redraft and we look forward to working through those in the next few weeks with lawmakers,” Matthew Wilder, a spokesman for the group, told the newswire.

Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), the cochairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, where the bill was voted on Friday, explained revisions in the House version to State House News as changes that emerged that day.

“The House bill goes just one tick further and requires them to issue regulations and specifically to address when and how gender identity may be evidenced,” he said, referring to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. “It asks for some additional clarity about the concept of gender identity to be developed through regulations. It also adds language requiring the attorney general to issue guidance about how people should respond when they believe someone is asserting a gender identity for an improper purpose, basically just sort of faking it to get into the wrong place.”