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MA Public Accommodations Q&A

Updated July 11, 2016
On Thursday, July 7, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed the transgender public accommodations bill. It was signed into law by Governor Baker on July 8. The law went into effect on October 1, 2016.

What does this law do?

The law adds the phrase “gender identity” to Massachusetts’ public accommodations law. That means that people are protected against discrimination on the basis of gender identity in accessing public accommodations. In other words, transgender people must be given access to public accommodations on equal footing with everyone else.

In 2011, the Massachusetts legislature added gender identity protections to the Commonwealth’s employment, housing, credit, education, and hate crimes laws. The passage of this most recent law fills the gap in coverage that the legislature left open in 2011.

What venues and facilities are covered?

Public accommodations include all entities that provide goods and services to the general public. It includes restaurants, libraries, hotels, malls, public transportation, and beyond. This law means that transgender people must be given access to all such facilities on equal footing with others. The law also makes clear that transgender people must be given access to sex-segregated facilities consistent with their stated gender identity.

Does it address bathrooms and locker rooms?

Yes. The law requires that transgender people have access to any sex-segregated facilities based on their stated gender identity.

When will this go into effect?

The effective date of the non-discrimination protections is October 1. The transgender public accommodations bill included what is termed an “emergency preamble.”  The emergency preamble acknowledged the importance of the law quickly going into effect. In order to ensure that covered public accommodations have time to both understand the law and to make any changes to existing policies, the bill specified that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the Attorney General (AG) develop guidelines to ensure compliance with the law.

Should I be worried about guidance that MCAD or the AG’s office might write or the way that part of the law was written?

No. The non-discrimination sections of the law are clear and unambiguous. Any concerns advocates had about the language in the section referring to MCAD and the AG were addressed in the conference committee. The law requires MCAD to develop guidance to ensure that all transgender people are protected as long as the person’s gender identity is sincerely held and not asserted for any improper purpose such as fraud or to justify misconduct.

It also authorizes the Attorney General to issue guidance to ensure that public accommodations such as stores or libraries do not report anyone to law enforcement simply because they believe the person is acting improperly. In other words, the guidance will explain that entities must accept a person’s stated gender identity as true. The only basis for ever referring someone to law enforcement is if a person breaks a law, not because of a misunderstanding about a person’s gender identity.

For questions about LGBTQ legal rights in New England, contact us at GLADAnswers.org