AG Coakley authors letter in support of Transgender Equal Rights Bill

Kevin Mark Kline READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley last week authored a letter to Chairman Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea) and Chairwoman Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), seeking a favorable recommendation from the Judiciary Committee for H. 502/5. 764, "An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights," also known as the "Transgender Equal Rights Bill."

The proposed legislation would add gender identity and expression to existing Massachusetts civil rights laws. Current laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, and marital status in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit. The Transgender Equal Rights Bill most recently had a June 8 hearing before the Committee.

Coakley, a longtime LGBT rights supporter, went into great detail in the July 20 letter, outlining the need for transgender-specific civil rights laws and describing her own support for the legislation. In addition, Coakley responded directly to discriminatory claims made by the bill's opponents:

The legislation currently before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary addresses the inequalities, mistreatment and abuse that transgender individuals regularly face by making it clear that they are protected against discrimination and violence under state law. This legislation will add gender identity or expression to our existing antidiscrimination laws concerning employment, housing, public accommodations, education, lending and credit. In practice, this change will prohibit landlords, employers, educational institutions, businesses, banks and places of public accommodation from discriminating against persons based on their gender identity or expression. And it will prohibit transgender individuals from being singled out and denied the same, basic rights and privileges that non-transgender people have long enjoyed and take for granted. Finally, this legislation will add gender identity or expression to our existing hate crime laws so that those who criminally victimize transgender individuals because of who they are will be properly charged and punished.

Over the past several years, opponents of this legislation have attempted to stoke fears about the public safety implications of this bill. Just last week, opponents began running radio ads that mischaracterize the bill to foster fear and bigotry, specifically by terming it the "bathroom bill" and threatening that its passage will permit men to dress as women for the purpose of entering restrooms to engage in unlawful conduct and claim protection under this law. Given the incorrect and unfortunate misconceptions generated by such statements, I wish to address this issue directly.

First, this bill does nothing to change existing laws in place to prosecute and punish individuals who engage in criminal conduct. As a prosecutor for more than 25 years, I can emphatically state that this bill only increases our ability to prosecute criminal conduct and protect the civil rights of all, and does nothing to restrict our ability to protect victims of any crimes. All people should be able to use restrooms and locker rooms in safety and with privacy, and that would remain the case under this new law. Allowing transgender people to use facilities that comport with their gender identity and how they live their lives is the safest and most workable approach and one that reduces further stigmatization. It is also the policy of the federal government as set forth by the Office of Personal Management which now requires federal employers to allow their employees to use the restroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity.

Second, inherent in this harmful commentary is the implication that transgender individuals are sex offenders or sexually deviant persons. Not only is this characterization inaccurate, it is deeply offensive and insulting. I note for the Committee that our office is unaware of a single instance where an individual has attempted to use this type of gender identity or expression protection as a defense to claims of criminal conduct or violation of privacy in any of the jurisdictions that have passed similar laws. Contrary to some of the commentary, it does not extend any new protections to sex offenders.

In short, I believe this legislation is the next step in our forward path of extending equal protections to all citizens and eradicating discrimination in our Commonwealth. I strongly urge you to give 11.502/S.764 a favorable recommendation.

by Kevin Mark Kline , Director of Promotions

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