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Transgender Public Accommodations Bill Moving Ahead In Legislature

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A bill that would protect transgender people in Massachusetts from discrimination in the areas of public accommodation, including gender-segregated restrooms and locker rooms, is moving forward in the Legislature.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to send a revised version of the bill to the House and Senate for debate soon. It adds language directing the state attorney general's office to issue guidance for prosecuting anyone who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose. The redrafted bill also requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to create regulations around when and how gender identity, as defined by law, may be evidenced.

Opponents of the legislation have claimed the law would open the door for male predators to disguise themselves as women to obtain access to female locker rooms and restrooms.

Gov. Charlie Baker has repeatedly refused to say whether he would sign the bill were it to pass, saying it depends on exactly what's in the bill. That prompted House Speaker Robert DeLeo to hold off on bringing the bill up for a vote until he was certain he had the two-thirds majority to override a veto, should the governor issue one. While still not saying what he will do, the governor has indicated he is unlikely to stand in the way of the bill becoming law. The bill could also become law without the governor's signature.

Speaker DeLeo issued a written statement Friday praising the revisions to the bill.

“This bill is the result of extensive conversations with members, advocates and the business community," DeLeo said. "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."

Attorney General Maura Healey has been a supporter of the bill, and supports the redraft as well.

“The AG thanks Speaker DeLeo and Chairman (John) Fernandes for their leadership and support and for their efforts to move this important piece of legislation," Healey spokeswoman Cyndi Roy Gonzalez said in a statement. "This is a big step in the right direction and she looks forward to action by the full House as soon as possible.”

Opponents of the bill maintain the redrafted bill still doesn't address privacy issues.

"This redraft of the bill does not offer any additional protections to women and children who do not want to be viewed, or looked at or have to expose themselves or be exposed to naked men in locker rooms," said Jonathan Alexandre, legal counsel for the Massachusetts Family Institute.

No date has been set for the House to take up debate on the bill. The Senate is expected to begin debate May 12.

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Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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