BOSTON (AP) - Transgender rights activists are marking the anniversary of a Massachusetts law guaranteeing transgender people can use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities - in part by vowing to fight efforts to repeal the measure.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill a year ago Saturday.
Activists said updating the law has helped ensure transgender people are not turned away at hotels or banks, denied lifesaving medical care, or mistreated when trying to use a public restroom.
“Most importantly, this law saves lives, because it sends a message to transgender youth that they have a future in this commonwealth,” Kasey Suffredini and Mason Dunn, co-chairs of Freedom for All Massachusetts, said in joint statement.
One of the most vocal advocates for the new law is Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, who called it “a huge victory for civil rights and for our transgender friends, family and neighbors.”
For all the fanfare, there have been few legal actions during the past year.
A spokeswoman for Healey said her office has received a few complaints about discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations, a couple of which are still pending review.
The aide also said the office has received “zero complaints” about people asserting gender identity for an improper purpose. The law instructed the attorney general’s office to advise law enforcement about how to deal with anyone who claims gender identity for an “improper purpose.”
Of the more than 5,500 complaints filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination during 2016, just 22 were based on gender identity.
An agency spokesman noted that a 2011 law already barred discrimination against transgender individuals at the workplace or in housing, so it’s not clear how many, if any, of the 22 complaints were based directly on last year’s law.
One complaint involved an individual employed at a fast food restaurant who alleged she was fired because of her gender identity. The worker, identified as a transitioning female, claimed her manager “singled her out to perform impossible job tasks and chastised her in front of employees and customers,” according to the agency’s 2016 annual report. The matter was settled for $8,000.
The agency is still compiling a mid-year report looking at cases filed during the first six months of 2017.
Opponents of the law say they are pressing ahead with a push on next year’s ballot aimed at repealing the measure.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said critics fear the law gives men an excuse to enter women’s bathrooms simply by making a gender identity claim. He said that could make it easier for men “who are voyeurs and want to take photos of woman in bathrooms by sliding cameras under stalls.”
He also said a woman who confronts someone she perceives to be a man in a woman’s bathroom could face prosecution and a fine.
“It jeopardizes the safety and privacy of real women,” Beckwith said. “As a husband and a father it concerns me.”
Beckwith conceded he hasn’t heard of any cases where anyone has been charged with falsely claiming gender identity to enter a bathroom for an improper reason - or anyone charged or fined with trying to prevent someone from entering a bathroom - since the law took effect in Massachusetts.
Beckwith said his group is trying to educate voters about what he said are the real implications of the law ahead of next year’s election. He said many people falsely believe the law calls for the creation of separate bathrooms for transgender individuals.
Suffredini and Dunn said they are pushing back, launching their own education campaign.
“Our coalition will continue working to build greater understanding, and, in 2018, when asked whether to continue treating their neighbors with dignity and respect, Massachusetts voters will vote yes,” they said.
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