Coakley & Baker: Their Real Stance on Transgender Equal Protections

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mass-statehouse-trans-smBy: Nicole Lashomb, Editor-in-Chief—

With Election Day just weeks away, The Rainbow Times reached out to the Massachusetts candidates of possibly the most highly contested race in the upcoming cycle, the race to the Governor’s office. The issue: Transgender public accommodations and the candidates’ stance on it.

In 2011, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender residents in employment, housing, education and lending, but fell short of protecting the transgender community in public spaces.

“The lack of protections in public areas has left a gaping hole,” said Neil Minahan, Boston attorney and national news legal expert, recognized as one of the country’s best “LGBT Lawyers Under 40” by the LGBT Bar Association. “Unlike all other anti-discrimination laws, this law has carved out public accommodations from the protections afforded to transgender people and confers second-class status to every transgender person in the Commonwealth.” [pullquote]“Martha has advocated repeatedly in support of the transgender equality law, including making extensive efforts to oppose the removal of places of public accommodation from the bill. During this past session, she advocated for the expansion of the law to cover places of public accommodation,” said Bonnie McGilpin, Press Secretary, Martha Coakley for Governor. [/pullquote]

In a recent survey of the Commonwealth’s transgender population, nearly 60 percent of transgender respondents reported that they have experienced discrimination, harassment or violence in public spaces simply because of who they are. Currently pending in the state legislature is the Equal Access bill, which would prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations throughout the state, according to an official from a leading statewide grassroots advocacy organization.

“’Public accommodations’ is a legal term for all of the public spaces where all of us in the Commonwealth conduct so much of our day-to-day lives: banks, grocery stores, coffee shops, sidewalks, public transportation, the gas station, hospitals, etc.,” explained Kara Coredini, Executive Director, MassEquality. “Everyone in Massachusetts, including transgender people, should have the ability to go about their daily business without threat of discrimination, harassment or violence.”

Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker shared their positions for the Equal Access bill, protecting the safety of the Commonwealth’s transgender residents.

“Martha has advocated repeatedly in support of the transgender equality law, including making extensive efforts to oppose the removal of places of public accommodation from the bill. During this past session, she advocated for the expansion of the law to cover places of public accommodation,” said Bonnie McGilpin, Press Secretary, Martha Coakley for Governor. [pullquote]“MassEquality is grateful to Martha Coakley for her long-standing and game-changing record of leadership on transgender equality, and we are disappointed that Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito continue to oppose protecting transgender people from discrimination and violence in public spaces,” Coredini said.[/pullquote]

In stark contrast to Coakley’s views, when pressed to comment specifically on public accommodations protections for the transgender community, the Baker campaign stated that the candidate “prefers the current law regarding public accommodations,” according to Communications Director, Tim Buckley, Charlie Baker for Governor.

The Baker campaign declined to further elaborate on the equal access bill. As it stands, the current law supported by the Baker campaign does not protect transgender people in public spaces.

“MassEquality is grateful to Martha Coakley for her long-standing and game-changing record of leadership on transgender equality, and we are disappointed that Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito continue to oppose protecting transgender people from discrimination and violence in public spaces,” Coredini said.

The need to address the lack of transgender public accommodations is crucial, according to Mason Dunn, Executive Director, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

“On a policy level, this [public accommodations] is extremely problematic and must be addressed,” said Dunn. “We know that transgender people face discrimination and harassment in public places, and the current law does nothing to address this.”

Coakley has taken the issue head on with the state legislature. As well, Coakley’s campaign is the only campaign that addresses and speaks of furthering transgender rights. [pullquote]In stark contrast to Coakley’s views, when pressed to comment specifically on public accommodations protections for the transgender community, the Baker campaign stated that the candidate “prefers the current law regarding public accommodations,” according to Communications Director, Tim Buckley, Charlie Baker for Governor.[/pullquote]

“Attorney General Martha Coakley, the top law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth and a vocal proponent of the Equal Access Bill, has testified before the state legislature that opponents’ claims are a red herring to distract the public from the actual issue at stake here: basic safety for transgender people,” said Coredini.

The state legislature will have to opportunity to pass the Equal Access Bill when it reconvenes in 2015.

“Massachusetts is a national leader on so many issues, especially when it comes to civil rights,” Minahan said. “We owe it to ourselves and the rest of the country to pass a law that enables fully lived equality for every single transgender or gender non-conforming person in this commonwealth. That can only happen if transgender people are equally protected in public spaces.”

For more information about the Equal Access Bill, visit http://tinyurl.com/l556d62.

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