Supporters, critics of transgender bills clash at hearing

Boston, MA 100615 Transgender teen Brendon Adams (cq), 14, of Framingham and Maureen Mulhern (cq) of Arlington spoke during a State Hearing on transgender rights, Tuesday, October 6 2015. Mulhern (cq) has two transgender sons. (Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda) section: Metro slug: 07transgender reporter: David Scharfenberg
Transgender teen Brendon Adams, 14, of Framingham and Maureen Mulhern of Arlington spoke during a state hearing on transgender rights Tuesday. Mulhern has two transgender sons.
Wendy Maeda / The Boston Globe

BOSTON (AP) — Critics of Massachusetts proposals to extend non-discrimination protections to transgender people in restaurants, schools or any place that accommodates the public said the state should instead focus on the privacy rights of children and women.

At a Statehouse hearing Tuesday, Andover Republican state Rep. James Lyons said the bills could allow a 14- or 15-year-old boy to decide he is female and walk into a girl’s locker room.

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‘‘What about those parents who are concerned?’’ Lyons said.

Supporters of the measures — including Attorney General Maura Healey, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy and dozens of lawmakers — said transgender individuals are far more likely to be on the receiving end of discrimination.

Brandon Adams, a 14-year-old Framingham resident who testified alongside Kennedy, spoke to the Judiciary Committee about the challenges of transitioning from a girl to a boy.

‘‘I asked to use the boy’s bathroom because that’s where I felt safe,’’ Brandon said.

When school officials refused, Brandon drank less water — ultimately feeling dizzy and dehydrated — to avoid using the bathroom while at school.

The bills would expand a 2011 law that already banned discrimination against transgender people in the workplace and in housing by also banning discrimination in other public accommodations.

Healey said her office has received seven complaints this year from transgender individuals facing discrimination in public places. She said that while it’s illegal under state law for a restaurant to discriminate against a transgender individual when hiring, it’s not illegal for restaurants to refuse service to transgender people.

‘‘Discomfort is not a reason to perpetuate discrimination,’’ she said.

Opponents said the bill would endanger the privacy and safety of women and children in public bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms, and allow sexual predators to claim confusion about their gender in order to gain access to private areas.

‘‘The legislature must understand that we are dealing with two conflicting rights here — the right of a grown man to fully ‘express himself’ as female versus the right to privacy of my young daughter and millions like her,’’ Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith said.

Healey said the law doesn’t mean that men can dress up like women to walk into a woman’s room. She said she wasn’t aware of any such cases. She also said that illegal activity would still remain illegal under the law.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley and Police Commissioner William Evans also testified in favor of the bill.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that he doesn’t want anybody discriminated against and supports the 2011 law but has concerns about moving away from the current law.

‘‘We should never discriminate against anybody, and people should be protected. That’s absolutely my view,’’ Baker said, adding that when it comes to specific legislation ‘‘the devil’s always in the details with respect to this sort of thing.’’