BOSTON – Last week Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate passed An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination, which provides equal access to public places for every resident of the Commonwealth regardless of gender identity. Public accommodations include but are not limited to restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, sports arenas, and nursing homes.
According to a 2014 Fenway Health survey, 65 percent of transgender Massachusetts residents reported experiencing discrimination in public spaces including restaurants, retail establishments, and health service centers. This legislation prevents such discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations by adding the phrase “gender identity” to pre-existing law.
“For several reasons, I call this ‘the nursing home bill,’” said Senator Jehlen. “Nursing homes are included in this bill because they, too, are public accommodations, and I have heard horrible stories of discrimination and abuse against transgender residents in certain facilities. I am glad the senate took this important step to ban discrimination.”
Last September, the Massachusetts Special Legislative Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Aging, co-chaired by Senator Jehlen, released a report of recommendations that, if implemented, would bring a sweeping set of reforms to improve the care of LGBT older adults in the Commonwealth. To learn about the needs of the elderly and aging LGBT population in Massachusetts, the Commission held hearings in Boston, Orleans, Worcester, and Holyoke to collect testimony from LGBT older adults, and the community groups that serve them.
In testimony presented, the Commission heard about a transgender woman who had gone to live with her family in Western MA after she developed dementia. They cared for her for as long as they could, however her dementia progressed until she could no longer be cared for at home.
“After contacting every nursing home on that side of the state, one facility in Springfield agreed to take care of her. She had been denied access to all others because she was transgendered,” Senator Jehlen continued. “They refused to put her in a regular room, repurposing a closet with no windows. Other LGBT people have talked about going back in the closet when they need care as they age, but this was a physical, not a metaphorical closet.”
This bill builds on the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, passed in 2011, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, education, employment, and credit. Where the final bill in 2011 did not include public accommodations protections, this legislation completes a near decade of advocacy around full inclusion of transgender residents in communities across the Commonwealth.
The bill passed in its original form with a 33-4 vote, with rejection of all but one amendment. The adopted amendment, filed by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, is an emergency preamble which calls for the legislation to take effect as soon as it becomes law.
More than 200 cities and towns across the country, including 14 in Massachusetts, already have these protections in place. If implemented at the state level, Massachusetts would become the 18th state in the country to offer public accommodations protections to their transgender residents.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.