As of July 1st, when the Transgender Equal Rights Bill takes effect, transgender people will have clear legal recourse if they face discrimination at work, in public housing, education or when they apply for credit. This is a straightforward and perhaps simple piece of legislation that will have a monumental impact on the lives of the Massachusetts transgender community.
The issue of equal rights for the transgender community has been around for some time. The original legislation was introduced in November of 2007. Now almost five years later, Massachusetts joins 15 other states who have added gender identity to the non-discrimination laws in the areas of employment, housing, K-12 public education and credit. The new law also adds “gender identity” to the Massachusetts hate crimes statutes.
Since the very beginning, the BBA has worked with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition on this historic piece of legislation. Among other advocacy measures, the BBA has participated at public hearings by testifying in support of the legislation both as an access to justice issue and as a diversity and inclusion issue. As we’ve written before in Issue Spot, adding the term “gender identity” really is a basic civil rights protection. But the acceptance of that term also signifies the recognition that diversity can be a major asset for society and businesses.
While this new law brings some protections to challenges faced by members of the transgender community, it does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations. Existing Massachusetts laws do provide some support for claims brought in public accommodations cases, but the lack of explicit protections in regard to discrimination in public accommodations fails to clarify how these types of cases will be resolved. For more information about the public accommodations aspect of this issue check out this recent, insightful Boston Bar Journal article.
So while we pause to celebrate this new law taking effect we realize there’s more work to be done in this area. Advocates plan to revisit discrimination in public accommodations during the next legislative session.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association