Chairwoman Clark, Chairman O’Flaherty, and members of the committee,
It has been a long day for you. Thank you holding this hearing and allowing me the opportunity to testify. I will be brief.
My name is Kara Suffredini. I am the Executive Director of MassEquality, the Commonwealth’s statewide LGBT political advocacy organization. And House Bill 1589/Senate Bill 643, “An Act Relative to Equal Access” is one of MassEquality’s top legislative priorities.
As you know, this legislation would prohibit discrimination against transgender youth, adults and families in places of public accommodation. “Places of public accommodation” is a legal term of art for just about everywhere we all spend our days outside of home, work and school. Grocery stories, hospitals, coffee shops, public transportation, the bank, my walk from the MassEquality offices up to the State House – these are all places of public accommodation.
By this point today, you have heard the many stories and statistics about the harassment and discrimination transgender people face in these spaces just because of who they are. Our Commonwealth should strive to ensure that transgender people, like all other residents of the Commonwealth, can be in these spaces without harassment or discrimination. It is a matter of basic fairness and equality. It can be accomplished by passage of this legislation.
Our Commonwealth is no stranger to leadership on emerging social justice issues. On June, 26th of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court made history when it struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, ensuring that all married couples are equally under federal law. That tremendous nationwide progress was made possible because our Commonwealth proudly, courageously, and justly led the way on marriage equality.
On the issue of basic civil rights for transgender people, Massachusetts has fallen behind. We can be proud to be among the growing number of states that have passed basic civil rights protections for transgender youth, adults and families. That was a tremendous step forward by this legislative body in 2011. But of the 17 states with transgender nondiscrimination laws, we are the only one that does not provide public accommodations protections. As U.S Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would say, without public accommodations, our Commonwealth’s transgender nondiscrimination provisions are “skim-milk” protections.
Gender identity is also the only protected category in the Commonwealth’s civil rights laws that isn’t protected in every area of the civil rights code.
These are harmful precedents, and I respectfully ask this body to change them.
I appreciate that transgender people and issues are novel, and even uncomfortable, for some. But perhaps no state knows better than Massachusetts that discomfort cannot justify discrimination. Some were uncomfortable with the idea of loving, committed same-sex couples marrying. Massachusetts has enjoyed marriage equality for 9 years, and we have seen that families are stronger and communities are healthier when everyone is treated with dignity and respect. If 16 other states can ensure that transgender people are treated with dignity and respect in public accommodations, certainly a leader like Massachusetts can do it.
I respectfully request that this Committee finish what it started in 2011. Report the Equal Access Bill favorably out of Committee, urge leadership to bring it up for a vote, and send it to the Governor to sign.
Thank you for your leadership.