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'Bathroom Bill' Sparks Locker Room Accessibility Debate

BOSTON -- A state judiciary committee recently heard testimony on a bill supporting transgender anti-discrimination rights in Massachusetts, including comments from an International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) representative.

The legislation, House Bill 1728, 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 the group says would be allowed access to public restrooms and locker rooms.

Helen Durkin, IHRSA’s executive vice president of public policy, 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 in 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. “IHRSA’s members are inclined to believe that the right to undress in a locker room without being forced to do so in the presence of the opposite sex remains reasonable and worthy of preservation.”

Some 13 states, including Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont, 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.

“We should not allow safety concerns to become a proxy for prejudice against transgender people,” testified Jennifer Levi, attorney and director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. “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.”

Durkin said four states had exempted restrooms and locker rooms from gender identity non-discrimination laws, though Levi says at least two of those states had pre-existing exemptions in place before those amendments were passed.

In addition, Levi says there are ways to address privacy concerns for bathrooms and locker rooms that do not discriminate.

“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.”

She notes that many fitness facilities now provide shower curtains and bathroom doors that can be closed for those who feel uncomfortable changing clothes in public.

This marks the second time the committee has heard testimony on the bill, which needs the judiciary committee’s approval before it advances to the Massachusetts legislature.

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