Mass. Statehouse hearing scheduled on transgender rights bills

BOSTON (AP) — U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy is among those planning to testify at a public hearing on a pair of bills that would extend non-discrimination protections to transgender people in public spaces in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Democrat and other supporters of the bills want to expand a 2011 state law protecting transgender people from discrimination in the workplace and housing by adding “gender identity” to the state’s civil rights laws.

Advocates say it’s time to broaden the law to include protections for transgender people in public places such as hospitals, malls, restaurants, parks and government offices.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has said he supports the 2011 law, signed by then-Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, but doesn’t support changes to the state’s public accommodations law.

Baker again said Monday he doesn’t want anybody discriminated against and supports the 2011 law but said he has concerns moving away from current law.

“I don’t comment on legislation until it gets to my desk because you never know what it’s going to look like by the time it gets there,” Baker said after a meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, both Democrats.

Baker was pressed by reporters on whether he specifically supports or opposes adding transgender protections to the state’s public accommodations laws.

“We should never discriminate against anybody, and people should be protected. That’s absolutely my view,” Baker said, adding that when it comes to specific legislation “the devil’s always in the details with respect to this sort of thing.”

Rosenberg said he favors the proposed changes to the law.

“I’m going to be working with my colleagues to determine where the majority lies on it, and I’m hopeful it will pass,” he said. “Anti-discrimination can’t wait. Every day that goes by people are harmed by not having adequate protection under the law.”

Kennedy has said Massachusetts lags behind 17 other states and Washington, D.C., which have updated public accommodations laws to include transgender people. Among the states with tougher protections, he said, are several in New England: Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The House version of the bill has more than 60 co-sponsors in the 200-member Legislature.

Attorney General Maura Healey also supports the change in the public accommodations law as do some members of the business community, including Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Google and Eastern Bank.

The hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee is scheduled for Tuesday at the Statehouse.

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