For activists seeking a transgender equal protections bill by year's end, the clock is ticking.
Lawmakers have until the end of this legislative session on Wednesday to get big ideas on the governor’s desk – a cue that includes bills addressing the opioid crisis, solar energy, access to public records and privacy on social media - so groups are making last-minute efforts to get Beacon Hill’s attention.
The time is now, demonstrators posted on the State House steps told Metro.
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“This needs to get done by Wednesday because people are literally dying,” said Kasey Suffredini, co-chair of Freedom Massachusetts, the coalition at the center of advocacy for the bill, which would give transgender individuals a legal shield against discrimination in public places: bathrooms, restaurants, parks.
“These are people, some of whom have lost their children to death by suicide because it is so difficult to be a transgender person in Massachusetts,” he said of the two-dozen or so assembled at the State House.
About 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, a study from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found.
Advocates see the bill as a way to close the loop on a 2011 non-discrimination law, which had the public places provisions stripped out by lawmakers.
Opponents, among them the Family Law Institute and State Rep. James Lyons, point to uncomfortable consequences, chiefly that the bill would force people, including children, to share bathrooms with transgender women born men.
“I’m suggesting that the privacy rights of our children matter,” Lyons said at a hearing in October.
Gov. Charlie Baker has said he believes current law is sufficient to handle discrimination cases. Attorney General Maura Healey has disagreed, saying the state lacks legal grounds to protect Massachusetts’ transgender population.
“Never in our state's history has a court extended protections under our public accommodations law to a transgender person," Healey wrote in a letter last week, the State House News Service reported.
Seventeen states have passed laws similar to the protections sought by the bill’s advocates.
The coalition had by Monday collected 5,500 signatures from supporters, which they planned to deliver to House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.
After a press conference, they clutched several piles of hundreds of sheets of paper, each of them representing a constituent who supports of the bill, which they also planned to deliver to lawmakers. Among paper-carriers was Carol Caravana, a mom whose son identifies as transgender.
“There are a lot of people in Massachusetts who want this and need it and it’s just common sense civil rights. We’re not asking for anything unusual,” Caravana said.
The activists had been joined by legislators, law enforcement officials and 14-year-old Brandon Adams, who testified at a hearing for the bill in October.
Another mom, 62-year-old Marcia Garber, wore a pin on her lapel of her son, a 20-year-old transgender man, who died in 2009 of a heroin overdose.
Lawmakers, she said, lacked the political will to make the 2011 bill go far enough.
“That’s why we’re back,” said Garber, who said she’d been an agitator for LGBTQ equality since 2001. “We’d like to get this piece done. That’s the urgency, because we know from experience what happened last time.”
The coalition and other bill supporters face stiff competition. DeLeo, House speaker, has identified as his top priorities bills to lift a solar energy cap and revamp public records law in the state. Monday morning, Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh testified at a hearing on a bill targeting opioid abuse. On Wednesday, the Senate plans to take up a bill to criminalize fentanyl, a synthetic opiate used to cut heroin, the State House News Service reports.