Bathroom Bill Sparks Accessibility Debate

Boston — An anti-discrimination bill under consideration in Massachusetts could have implications for health club locker room accessibility guidelines.

A Massachusetts state judiciary committee heard testimony last month on House Bill 1728 that supports transgender rights. It would amend the state's non-discrimination and hate crime laws to make them inclusive for transgendered people.

The Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative Christian organization, testified against the bill and launched a media campaign that labeled it “the bathroom bill.” The group ran a series of radio ads that claimed the legislation would put women and children at risk to male sexual predators, whom they say would be allowed access to public restrooms and locker rooms.

Helen Durkin, executive vice president of public policy for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), also testified in opposition to the bill, which the organization says would infringe on the privacy rights of health club members. Durkin asked the judiciary committee to consider exempting health club locker rooms from the bill's language.

“If the proposed legislation becomes law, there would be situations at health clubs where not only adults, but also children, would be in close proximity to an individual with the anatomy of the opposite sex as that individual undressed,” Durkin testified.

Some 13 states have passed similar anti-discrimination laws without an increase in restroom-related incidents, according to the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), a legal rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression.

“A full 37 percent of the American population, in 13 states, live in an area covered by a transgender-inclusive anti-discrimination law, and there have been no reported incidents involving a transgender person threatening the safety of anyone else in a restroom facility,” testified Jennifer Levi, attorney and director of GLAD's Transgender Rights Project.

In addition, Levi says privacy concerns can be addressed without discriminating.

“There are very easy ways to address these concerns without jeopardizing passage of the bill,” Levi says. “One way people generally address privacy issues is to provide private spaces for anyone who wants to use them.”

Levi notes that many health clubs now provide shower curtains and bathroom doors for people who are uncomfortable changing in public.

This is the second time the committee heard testimony on the bill, which needs the judiciary committee's approval before it advances to the state legislature.

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