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BBA Joins Freedom for All MA to Protect Transgender Antidiscrimination Law

January 05, 2018

In their last meeting of the year, the BBA Council reaffirmed their support for transgender equality and voted to join the Freedom for All MA Coalition to protect An Act Relative to Transgender Antidiscrimination from repeal in November 2018. Keep reading to learn more about the BBA’s long history in support of these protections, how the law made it to the ballot, and what you can do to ensure this important law remains on the books.

In 2007, the BBA Labor and Employment Section brought a request to Council to support H.1722, an Act Relative to Gender Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes, which would clarify that gender identity and gender expression were protected in existing anti-discrimination and hate crime laws. This proposed law included protections in employment, housing, credit, higher education, as well as public accommodations. After endorsing the bill, the BBA worked with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition to advocate for these anti-discrimination protections. We presented oral testimony at legislative committee hearings, and you can read our written testimony here.

As this testimony provides, antidiscrimination protections are necessary for ensuring access to justice for all, a key part of the BBA’s Mission. Transgender individuals need these specific protections because they suffer pervasive discrimination and disproportionately high levels of crime. As an association of more than 12,000 legal professionals, the BBA also knows that diversity in the profession, as well as in our society at large, is vital. These laws are necessary to ensure that no one faces discrimination or violence based on their gender identity.

We continued this advocacy until a law was eventually passed in 2011. When that law, An Act Relative to Gender Identity, was adopted, we applauded the governor and the Legislature for finally taking this important step. The final version, however, differed from the proposed 2007 bill in one major respect: protections were extended to employment, housing, credit, and higher education but not public accommodations—meaning public places like retail stores and malls, restaurants, hotels, public parks, theatres, public transportation, and medical offices. Advocates continued to fight for the inclusion of public accommodations until 2016, when An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination was passed and protections were extended to these spaces. Upon enactment of this law, we again issued a statement in support, providing:

“Discrimination against individuals who are gender non-conforming is both dehumanizing and inconsistent with the bedrock principle of justice for all. We applaud Governor Baker and the Legislature for placing Massachusetts alongside 17 other states and the District of Columbia in taking this important step forward.”

Following this, we continued to track the law’s implementation, and last spring hosted a program that discussed what it meant and how it was working thus far. Check out our podcast on that program here.

There having been no reports of issues with enactment of the Massachusetts law (and no issues in the various jurisdictions, like Boston, who have had these same local protections for over a decade), this begs the question, how did the law end up on the ballot?

Following its enactment in 2016, opponents of the public accommodations protections began a ballot initiative to pursue repeal of the law. This group, called Keep MA Safe, has based their opposition to the law on the familiar, fear-based “bathroom bill” rhetoric that was used to oppose the laws in 2011 and 2016. By gathering the requisite number of signatures, only 1.5% of the total vote cast for Governor at the last state election, Keep MA Safe managed to ensure that repeal of the 2016 law appears on the November 2018 ballot as a veto referendum. At the polls, voters will be asked whether they approve of the law, and a “Yes” vote will safeguard the public accommodations protections for transgender individuals.

The BBA is proud to join the Freedom for All MA Coalition in ensuring these crucial protections remain law. According to President Mark Smith:

 “It is my hope that, in concert with the Freedom for All Massachusetts coalition, we can prevent this important civil rights victory from being reversed.”

This Coalition is working hard to gather broad support to counter the fear-based narratives being put forth by opponents of the law and educate voters on both the experiences of harassment and discrimination faced all-too-often by transgender individuals and the benefit of having such a law on the books. Already, the coalition is made up of a large and diverse network of individuals and entities, including big businesses, advocacy organizations, educational institutions, public officials, law enforcement officers, religious leaders, and industry associations. This includes large employers like Google, GE, Facebook, Ropes & Gray, and LPL Financial; public officials and entities like Mayor Marty Walsh, the Major City Chiefs of Police, the Chiefs of Police Association, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Boston Public Library; advocacy organizations like the ACLU, GLAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the YWCA; as well as bar associations like the Women’s Bar and the Mass LGBTQ Bar. If your company, bar association, or entity has not yet added their name to this Coalition, you can find more information on how to do so here.

You can expect regular updates on this campaign and some important opportunities to join the BBA in its work to protect these antidiscrimination protections going forward, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can sign the Freedom for All MA Pledge to defend transgender equality in Massachusetts.

—Alexa Daniel
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association