- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 10, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III and six other members of the state’s congressional delegation have sent letters to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg urging them to pass legislation extending nondiscrimination protections to transgender people in public spaces in Massachusetts.

In the letter sent Monday evening, the Democratic members of Congress urged the state Legislature to pass the bills before going on holiday break next week.

Mr. DeLeo on Monday didn’t list the bills among the major pieces of legislation he hoped to take up before the break.

Mr. Rosenberg favors the proposed changes.

In the letter, Mr. Kennedy and the other lawmakers said Massachusetts needs to be more welcoming to its transgender citizens.

“None of our transgender neighbors should be denied service at a coffee shop or be harassed in public restrooms because of who they are,” the letter said. “None of our transgender children should encounter exclusion or intimidation that makes them shy away from participating in the life of their communities.”

The letter noted that 17 other states and Washington, D.C., already have updated public accommodations laws to include transgender people, and adopting the change would help Massachusetts in the vanguard of civil rights.

The letter also was signed by U.S. Reps. Niki Tsongas, Katherine Clark, William Keating, Seth Moulton, Jim McGovern and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey.

The bills would expand a 2011 Massachusetts law that already bans discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing by also banning discrimination in other public accommodations.

Opponents said the bills would endanger the privacy and safety of women and children in public bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms, and allow sexual predators to claim confusion about their gender in order to gain access to private areas.

At a Statehouse hearing last month, Andover Republican state Rep. James Lyons said the bills could allow a 14- or 15-year-old boy to decide he is female and walk into a girl’s locker room.

“What about those parents who are concerned?” Mr. Lyons said at the hearing.

Peter Sprigg of Family Research Council and Jonathan Alexandre of Massachusetts Family Institute also spoke against the bills. Mr. Sprigg noted that many children are successfully treated for gender dysphoria.

Earlier this month, voters in Houston repealed a similar transgender protection law.

Mr. Kennedy, who testified in favor of the Massachusetts bills, said the state’s congressional delegation wants to see federal transgender protections laws, and it would be easier to pass if more states had their own protections in place.

“This is a piece of legislation that is tremendously overdue in Massachusetts,” Mr. Kennedy told The Associated Press.

Other supporters of the measures — including Attorney General Maura Healey and dozens of state lawmakers — said transgender individuals are far more likely to be on the receiving end of discrimination.

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he doesn’t want anyone discriminated against and supports the 2011 law, but has concerns about moving away from that law.

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

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