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Massachusetts has no trans-accommodation bill, either
VIEWPOINT
by Rev. Irene Monroe
2016-05-11

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Mississippi and North Carolina can now be added to the list of states codifying transgender discrimination.

To date, only 17 states across the country have passed non-discrimination bills protecting transgender citizens in public spaces. Shockingly, Massachusetts isn't one of them.

With Massachusetts lauded as one of the most pro-LGBTQ states in the country, my lawmakers have disappointed me with their political foot-dragging and stalling on our "bathroom bill." Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Attorney General Maura Healey fully support the bill. Gov. Charlie Baker, however, has declined to take a stance on it.

Baker's inaction has caused him a national embarrassment—which is a pox on us Bay Staters, too.

Just recently, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce ( NGLCC ) rescinded their plans to honor Baker when the group learned of his refusal to take a stand on the transgender public-accommodations legislation currently before the State House, and of his intention to attend a Las Vegas conference that would have anti-LGBTQ speakers, and a Texas minister who has said God sent Adolf Hitler for the Jews.

Baker was set to be honored by NGLCC alongside Rep. Joe Kennedy III at a gala dinner in Washington, D.C., until Kennedy flat out stated he would not attend the event because of his strong support for transgender rights and the governor's refusal to move swiftly and affirmatively on the bill that would protect transgender individuals as full citizens of the Commonwealth.

This sort of inaction by lawmakers makes it increasingly unsafe and difficult for our transgender denizens to engage in the simple activity of simply going out to grab something to eat, that cisgendered people can take for granted, without the angst, anguish and fear of navigating their bathroom restrictions.

Across the country, however, this sort of amped-up fear-mongering of the "predatory heterosexual male pervert" or "peeping Tom" has halted or canned movement forward in getting needed transgender public-accommodations bills passed. And obstructionists' claims against the bill, purporting to have nothing against transgender people, state their positions are to protect women and children from countless deviant men who would pretend to be transgender.

To date, however, there is no evidence to corroborate the fear. As a matter-of-fact, Chief William G. Brooks III of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association said "There is no reason to believe that individuals—whether transgender or otherwise—will use these protections as cover to enter into the restroom or locker room of the opposite sex and engage in criminal misconduct. We are aware of no such incidents that have occurred in Massachusetts communities that have already have such protections in place."

Faith leaders across the state have now stepped in, asking Baker and elected officials to move swiftly on the passage of SB 735/HB 1577.

The same week Baker's "Best-of-the-Best "award was rescinded by NGLCC Massachusetts Faith Leaders for Freedom, a diverse group of clergy from across the Bay State, invited congregations to participate in a Weekend of Faith for Transgender Non-Discrimination on April 9-10. Activities included prayer and action to support the passage of SB 735/HB 1577 from mentioning the bill during prayerful intentions, to hosting a letter writing party during coffee hour, to inviting a speaker during service.

In a public pledge that received hundreds of signatures from faith leaders standing up for SB 735/HB 1577, it stated the following:

"We are calling on the legislature to pass An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination and add gender identity to existing state public accommodations law thereby extending protections to our fellow transgender and gender non-confirming citizens."

Freedom Massachusetts—the bipartisan campaign working to ensure all Bay Staters equal protection under the law—spearheaded statewide action with Weekend of Faith for Transgender Non-Discrimination. JeanMarie Gossard, field director of Freedom Massachusetts, shared her experience with me.

"In Church yesterday, the pastor preaching started his service by saying, 'Come if you are gay, come if you are straight, come if you are cis-gender, come if you are transgender, come. You are welcome here,'" Gossard wrote.

"Our faith leaders are our moral leaders. They have guided our understandings of right and wrong since time immemorial. They know how to put faith into action. And they did that this weekend. We hope their support can set a clear example for the legislature: all are equal in God's love."

These "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" springing up across the country are a backlash to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and the growing fear of when the Supreme Court legalize it nationwide. They are a perversion of the Constitution and our history of religious freedom.

Recently I, too, participated in Massachusetts Faith Leaders for Freedom campaign. As an African-American, I see transgender Americans being denied access to public lavatories eerily reminiscent of the country's last century Jim Crow era denying us access to lunch counters, water fountains, and restrooms in restaurants, libraries, gas stations, theaters, to name a few. And, as a lesbian, I know that policing my transgender brothers and sisters using public bathrooms gravely impact gender non-conforming people, too.

Democracy can only begin when those at the margin can experience what others take for granted.


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