- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday he respects the feelings of an LGBT group that booed him off a stage when he declined to commit to legislation that would expand protections for transgender people in public places.

Baker strongly defended his record on issues important to the LGBT community and told reporters at the Statehouse that he opposes any form of discrimination. But he again refused to say if he’d sign the bill, which has yet to be voted on by the Legislature. He said as a general rule he did not take positions on bills pending before lawmakers and promised to review this legislation and discuss it with proponents should it reach his desk.

The Republican ended a speech early Wednesday night after being heckled by the audience - some of whom chanted “sign the bill” - during the Boston Spirit LGBT Executive Networking Night.

“I spoke for about 20 minutes … and obviously in the end that wasn’t quite what the folks wanted to hear and I respect that. I mean, it’s an emotional issue and people have strong feelings about it,” said Baker, who walked off the stage and did not mingle with the crowd after as organizers had hoped.

The governor said he was invited to speak after issuing a first-in-the-nation executive order designed to assist gay and lesbian-owned businesses hoping to bid on state contracts.

“I went to the event because I believe in and support many of the issues that community is concerned about and I’m proud of my record on those,” he said.

Baker also noted he was the only GOP governor who signed on to an amicus brief filed by a group of Republicans with the U.S. Supreme Court last year in support of gay marriage rights.

The Massachusetts bill would expand a 2011 state law banning discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing by also banning discrimination in restaurants, malls and other public accommodations, including restrooms.

Democratic legislative leaders support the bill, which is expected to come up first in the Senate next month.

The frustration of transgender residents is understandable given that the measure has stalled for years on Beacon Hill and Baker’s failure to take a public position on the measure, said Carly Burton, campaign manager for Freedom Massachusetts.

“I think that he has done some good things with the executive order and with his support for marriage equality, but I think he can definitely do more,” said Burton, whose group advocates for transgender rights. “It’s important to us that he come out and state his position, given what is going on nationally.”

LGBT groups have decried as discriminatory some recent laws passed in other states, including a North Carolina law that directs transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate.

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