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Transgender Rights | Public Accommodations | Massachusetts

Massachusetts Public Accommodations Q&A

What is a “place of public accommodation”?

A place that holds itself open to, and accepts the patronage of the general public is a place of public accommodation subject to Massachusetts non-discrimination laws (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 272, sec. 92A). This definition is intentionally broad and may include a motel, restaurant, rest area, highway or hospital, as just a few examples.

What does the law say about discrimination in places of public accommodation?

Such places may not discriminate, or make any distinctions, or impose any restrictions because of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. “[W]hoever aides or incites” such discriminatory treatment may also be penalized under the law (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 272, sec. 98).

Example: women, who were attacked by a used car dealer when he realized they were lesbians, stated a claim under the law and were awarded damages in a settlement.

Example: two women who kissed on a bus and were then forced off of the bus by the driver were protected by the law because the driver did not order off of the bus a heterosexual couple who were kissing were awarded damages (Rome v. Transit Express, 19 Mass. Discrim. Law Rptr. (M.D.L.R.) 159 (1997), affirmed, 22 M.D.L.R. 88 (2000)).

Example: couples who were forcibly ejected from a night club because customers were uncomfortable with their being physically affectionate were awarded damages (Stoll et al. v. State Street Stock Exchange, Inc., 18 M.D.L.R. 141 (1996)).

Does Massachusetts have an anti-discrimination law protecting transgender individuals from discrimination in places of public accommodation?

Yes. Since 1990, Massachusetts has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in public and private employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and services (see generally Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151B). Other areas of the law (e.g. education and insurance) also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Recently, these laws have been extended to protect transgender people. In 2011, Governor Deval Patrick signed a historic executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression in state employment (Mass. Exec. Order. No. 526 (Feb. 17, 2011), MA Executive Order 526). In 2012, Massachusetts amended its anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public and private employment, housing, credit, education, and services—but not public accommodations. Finally, in 2016, Massachusetts passed the long-awaited transgender public accommodations bill, protecting transgender people from discrimination in restaurants, libraries, hotels, malls, public transportation, and beyond (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 272, secs. 92A, 98). For further information about the bill, see GLAD’s MA Public Accommodations Q&A, at https://www.glad.org/current/post/ma-public-accommodations-q-a.

Do the laws also protect people perceived to be transgender in places of public accommodation?

Yes. Massachusetts non-discrimination law defines “sexual orientation” as “having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality” (Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151B, sec. 3(6)). This language has been interpreted to include discrimination based on perception. For example, if a person is fired because they are perceived to be gay, they may invoke the protection of the anti-discrimination law regardless of their actual orientation.

While the law does not explicitly define “gender identity,” it likely also encompasses discrimination based on perception. If an individual is discriminated against because they are perceived to be transgender, the law should protect them.

What protections exist for transgender people in places of public accommodation?

In 2016, Massachusetts passed the transgender public accommodations law, making gender identity an explicitly protected class. This means that transgender people are protected against discrimination in public accommodations, and may file a complaint against any person or entity perpetuating said discrimination.