Noting a gap in state law that allows discrimination against transgender people in public places, Jennifer Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), testified July 9 before a legislative committee in support of H. 1589/S. 643, the Equal Access Bill.

The Equal Access Bill would add non-discrimination protections for transgender people in public accommodations – effectively all of the places one travels between home, work and school, including public transportation and health care facilities. Current civil rights law already protects transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, credit and public education, and makes crimes committed against transgender people subject to treatment as hate crimes.

“In July 2011, the General Court added prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity to many of the Commonwealth’s laws, including the Safe Schools Law, the employment discrimination laws, and the hate crimes laws, among others. It left a void, however, in basic guarantees of equality provided to transgender people,” Levi, a nationally recognized expert on transgender legal issues, told members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“The void in the current law sends the signal that transgender people’s lives are less worthy than others’,” Levi stated. “It is also bad for business because it means that transgender people may be inhibited from regularly engaging in commerce throughout the Commonwealth.

Levi’s testimony also pointed out that of the 17 states plus the District of Columbia that have a transgender- inclusive non-discrimination law, Massachusetts is the only state that withholds protections for transgender people in the area of public accommodations.

Her testimony also addressed the issue of access for transgender people to public restrooms and locker rooms, which are also public accommodations.

Noting that some believe concern about allowing transgender people to use facilities that match their gender identity is what caused the legislature to exclude public accommodations protections from the 2011 Transgender Equal Rights Law, Levi called such reasoning “unfortunate and unprincipled.” She pointed out that the employment and education provisions of the law have no exclusions, which means that transgender employees and transgender students can access the restrooms consistent with their gender identity at work or school.

The Joint Committee on the Judiciary now must vote on whether to pass the Equal Access Bill out of committee and onto the full House and Senate for debate.

Read Levi’s written remarks here

Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.

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