Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was heckled and booed when he failed to commit to legislation that would protect the rights of transgender people in public spaces.
Baker was the keynote speaker at the 10th Annual Boston Spirit LGBT Executive Networking Night, attended by about 1,000 business leaders Wednesday.
The mayor was invited after endorsing an initiative to support LGBT-owned businesses. Boston Spirit Magazine said Baker has been instrumental in making Massachusetts the first state in the nation to add sexual orientation as part of supplier diversity.
During Wednesday's address, however, the governor did not mention his stance on a bill that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public places. The bill would expand a 2011 law banning LGBT discrimination in housing and the workplace.
While Baker has voiced support for the law, critics have said he needs to take a stronger stance. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce had planned to honor Baker in Washington, D.C., but withdrew its invitation over Baker's refusal to endorse the bill.
Twenty minutes into Baker's address Wednesday night, critics in the crowd interrupted the governor, yelling, "Sign the bill now!"
Baker has decried any form of discrimination but said he would "talk to all parties involved" when the bill reaches his desk, a disappointment to attendees who expected his support. The governor said he has met with a number of people to discuss the issue, comparing it to his outreach on the opioid epidemic, but attendees weren't satisfied with his response.
"The governor insulted us because he leaked to the transgendered community before this event that he was going to say something to the transgendered community tonight that we were going to receive as something positive," said one attendee.
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As the jeering continued, Baker ended his speech early and walked offstage.
"Thank you all. Have a great night," he said with a wave as the crowd continued to shout its demands. Those shouts turned to boos as Baker disappeared from view.
He did not mingle with the crowd afterward, as organizers had hoped.
A spokesperson for the governor's office addressed the incident in a statement Thursday morning.
"Governor Baker concluded his speech where he reiterated his belief that no one in Massachusetts should be discriminated against, praised attendees for their courage and urged the transgender community to continue to advocate for their beliefs," Baker's press secretary said. "He supports the 2011 legislation that expanded protections to transgender individuals and looks forward to reviewing additional legislation should it reach his desk."
The state Senate president said lawmakers are expected to debate the bill next month.