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Massachusetts Is About To Take A Big Step Forward On Transgender Rights

Asa Goodwillie, of Watertown, MA, who is transgender, protests outside the Statehouse in Boston, Wednesday, June 1, 2016 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA
Asa Goodwillie, of Watertown, MA, who is transgender, protests outside the Statehouse in Boston, Wednesday, June 1, 2016 CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

The Massachusetts House passed a bill Wednesday that would expand discrimination protection for transgender individuals and allow them to use the bathroom and locker room that matches their gender identity. After years of consideration, it now has a clear path to becoming law.

The measure passed comfortably through the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 116 to 36 after a seven hour debate during which 22 proposed amendments to the bill were rejected. The bill follows action taken last month by the Democratic-led Senate and paves the way for the measure to make its way to the Governor’s office soon.

The House and Senate bills do contain a difference, however, as the House version includes a provision directing the attorney general to provide guidelines to law enforcement “for any person who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose.” The difference between the House and Senate version of the bill will have to be addressed before the measure can go to the governor’s office.

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said on Tuesday he will sign the bill if it makes its way to his desk. “No one should be discriminated against in Massachusetts because of their gender identity,” Baker said. He did emphasize that he prefers the House version of the bill, as it “supplies the right amount of clarity with respect to the public safety questions that other people have raised.”

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Before his statement on Tuesday supporting discrimination protection for transgender people, Baker had come under fire for dodging the issue during recent appearances. And Baker’s current stance represents a dramatic shift from his position when he ran for Governor in 2010. During that campaign, Baker said he was opposed to a bill adding non-discrimination protection to transgender individuals in employment, housing, credit, education and other similar areas. Additionally, as recently as 2014, Baker came out against a ban on discrimination in places of public accommodation, saying: “No one’s been able to explain to me how the public accommodation piece would actually work in practice.”

Eighteen states, in addition to Washington D.C. and many other cities, have public accommodation non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The move to protect transgender people from discrimination in Massachusetts stands in contrast to North Carolina’s HB2, which forces transgender individuals to use bathrooms that don’t match their gender identity and bans discrimination protection for LGBT individuals. But in a directive announced last month, President Obama told schools to allow students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The move drew ire from conservatives, as a growing group of states — Kansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina are contemplating joining the 11 other states — have already filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, seeking the right to continue to discriminate.

Massachusetts will be the first state to add transgender public accommodations protections in two years. Maryland passed a comprehensive nondiscrimination law in 2014.

Evan Popp is an intern at ThinkProgress.