Massachusetts could join 17 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing transgender people to use the public restroom that matches their chosen gender, rather than their birth gender, before the summer of 2016 is over.
The Massachusetts Senate approved the Public Accommodations bill, SB 735, and sent it on to the House on May 12.
“I am deeply proud of the MA Senate for reaffirming our commitment to value and celebrate the diversity of humanity,” Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg wrote on his Facebook page.
“I’m very hopeful that this will become the law of our land as soon as possible. Every day without equal protection under the law for transgender people is another day we tolerate discrimination, and one more day is far too many,” he added.
Andrew Beckwith, the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said that was close to crazy talk.
But Joe Lemay, the father of a 6-year-old transgender boy, Jacob, who was in the Senate Gallery to watch the debate, said Massachusetts has nothing to worry about.
“There are other states where these protections are in place, and it is not exactly a pandemonium of perversion or anything crazy going on there,” Lemay told WCVB-TV.
Beckwith said the problem with Senate Bill 735, and its companion, HB 4253, is the legislation would violate privacy rights of those who don’t want to shower or use the bathroom with people born of the opposite sex.
“The Bathroom Bill will force women to undress or shower in the presence of men. This violates a fundamental right to personal privacy,” Beckwith said.
In the days before the vote, Sen. Rosenberg said the idea “passage of the Public Accommodations bill will bring ‘an unwanted male presence’ into women’s rooms is erroneous.”
“Transgender men are men, and transgender women are women,” Rosenberg said.
Beckwith said Rosenberg must believe then that men like Bruce Jenner, who changed his name without removing his penis, is now a woman, not a man.
“This is obviously false, if not borderline delusional,” Beckwith said, “and demonstrates that the leader of our Commonwealth’s upper legislative chamber lacks a basic understanding of the significance and purpose of reproductive anatomy.”
There was an effort to add an amendment that would’ve called for the state attorney general to provide guidance on how to handle sexual predators — men — who attempted to get into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender.
However, that was defeated. Proponents said sexual predators were already subjected to arrest and prosecution in Massachusetts, so there was no need to add it to the bill.
When Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz introduced the legislation in January the Democrat pointed out Massachusetts was the first state in America to enact a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public accommodations like restrooms in 1865.
Massachusetts was also the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
“That’s why it is difficult to fathom how, in 2016, we are still fighting for public accommodations protections and full equality for transgender Bay Staters,” Chang-Diaz said.
“Public accommodations are fundamental to equal rights in our society. They are the foundations upon which our everyday lives are carried out: where we eat when we’re hungry, where we go for help when we’re sick, and where we spend our hard-earned money when we shop, play, and travel,” she added.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has not said if he will sign the bill, which still must be approved by the House. But he is known as being a liberal Republican. Baker also dropped a rather loud hint in April that he would not veto the legislation.
“I take tremendous pride in the fact that on many of these issues I’ve been on what I would describe as the right side of history,” Baker said during an interview on WGBH-FM.
There was some pressure brought to bear on Baker by the LGBT community. He was booed at an LGBT networking event, and an LGBT business group took back Baker’s invitation to one of their events.
Beyond the dispute over whether transgendered men and women are really the gender they have chosen, even without the help of a surgeon, people opposed to the bathroom bill are also afraid of what’s next.
“Progressives (are) pushing a radical social agenda upon us,” said Rep. Jim Lyons (R), who was one of only two “no” votes on the House Judiciary Committee on HB 4253. “”This is a very, very serious bill that we have to fight back and prevent this from taking place, because they are trying to basically change society.”
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R) told the Worcester Business Journal she was afraid the legislation would make “bathrooms and locker rooms a free-for-all” for people with “nefarious intentions.”
Kaeley Triller, who wrote of her survival of a sexual assault for the Federalist, told reporters during a Massachusetts Family Institute press conference the day before the Senate vote that there should be “reasonable accommodations” for transgender people.
“But that doesn’t need to look like stripping voices from people who are also already vulnerable,” Triller said. “It doesn’t need to look like telling women that they need to get over it.”
However, what opponents to the Bathroom Bill are missing, asserted Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, is “transgender people are discriminated against every time they walk out the door.”
“They don’t call the police,” Isaacson said. “They suffer in silence. This bill will solve that problem.”