By Kate Schneider, News correspondent

Boston sports teams declared their support of a gender-equality bill last week, adding to the push to get the legislation passed.

The bill, SB 735/HB 1577, bans the discrimination of transgender people in all public places in Boston and adds “gender identity” to the Massachusetts’s civil rights law. Right now, the law only prohibits discrimination based on age, race, religion and sex.

On Monday, Jan. 11, the Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins, New England Patriots and New England Revolution all announced their support of the bill. The Boston Red Sox signed onto the bill in November. The measure is backed by many corporations including Google and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

“[The Boston Celtics are] proud to support efforts that guarantee the right to equal access for everyone.” Taylor Kielpinski-Roger, communication coordinator of the Celtics, said in an email to The News.

Advocates for the bill hope support from the sports world will strengthen the campaign.

“The united stance of the sports teams will help give legislators the support they need to expand equality and non-discrimination,” said Roger Abrams, a Northeastern University professor of law who specializes in the relationship between sports and politics.

This bill will be an addition to the Act Relative to Gender Identity that was passed in 2011. The previous legislation provided legal protections to transgender people in employment, housing and public education but did not incorporate protections in public spaces like stores, restaurants or malls.

“Ending discrimination against transgender people is pivotal for a happy, healthy and safe community,” said Mason Dunn, executive director of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and co-chair for Freedom Massachusetts Coalition. “We know people face discrimination in places like hospitals, parks and restaurants, and providing protection for those transgender people in Massachusetts will create a much safer community.”

In the past, sports teams have not been conventional supporters of LGBT causes. The recent endorsement of the bill shows the popularity and appeal of the campaign.

“Our local sports teams play a vital secular leadership role in our commonwealth,” Abrams said. “Professional sports have begun the process of recognizing gender identity and equality. Our sports teams recognize that discrimination against anyone is contrary to the prevailing ethos in sports of success based on merit and not classification.”

Opponents of the bill have raised privacy and safety objections, especially regarding the integration of public locker rooms and bathrooms.

“Laws are used to protect vulnerable people, especially women and children,” said Jonathan Alexandre, legal counsel and public policy director for the conservative Massachusetts Family Institute. “We can not allow a situation to occur where a young girl is changing in a locker room and a male-born transgender person is allowed to come in. It is just too hard to control and the right can easily be taken advantage of.”

In terms of the sports teams, Alexandre believes it is a fight between big corporations and small businesses.

“I do not know what the big businesses want, but most of the negative aspects of this bill will be imposed on small businesses like mom-and-pop shops and shelters,” Alexandre said.

Some are skeptical of the Boston sports’ genuine concern for transgender rights. Alex Langdon, Northeastern freshman club lacrosse player and mechanical engineering major, believes the teams could have chimed in on the bill for some positive attention in the media.

“Supporting the bill is more of a PR issue for the sports teams because it looks good on their parts but it does not benefit their franchises otherwise,” Langdon said.

Regardless of the reason for the endorsement, the bill has received enormous support. Freedom Massachusetts, an alliance of organizations, businesses and officials working to get the legislation passed, continues to grow and add members to its coalition of more than 170 organizations. Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg has committed to pass the bill, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo has announced his support and seeks to gain the two-thirds majority in his chamber before bringing the bill to a vote.

According to Abrams, Northeastern students play an important role in this bill and the process of the legislation in general, saying that students are “participants in this process of change in which all may participate.”

“In this proposed legislation, we continue our march toward freedom and equality for all persons in society,” Abrams said. “Massachusetts has always been a leader in this process, and this legislation continues to move us forward.”
Photo courtesy Rene Schwietzke, Creative Commons