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Massachusetts Isn't Mississippi, But It's No LGBT Paradise

Governor Charlie Baker

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 nondiscrimination bills protecting the right of transgender citizens to use the public facilities of their choosing. Shockingly, Massachusetts isn’t one of them.

With Massachusetts often lauded as one of the most pro-LGBTQ states in the country, my lawmakers have disappointed me with their political foot-dragging on our public accomodation bill for transgender people. Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Attorney General Maura Healey fully support the legislation. Gov. Charlie Baker, however, has declined to take a stance on it. Baker’s inaction has caused him national embarrassment — which is a pox on us Bay Staters too.

Just recently the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce rescinded its plan to honor Baker when the group learned of his refusal to take a stand on the transgender public accommodations legislation currently before the state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, including 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 people as full citizens of the Commonwealth.

This sort of inaction by lawmakers makes it increasingly unsafe and difficult for our transgender residents to engage in the simple activity of going out to eat — something cisgender people can do without the angst, anguish, and fear of navigating bathroom restrictions.

Across the country, amped-up fearmongering of the "predatory heterosexual male pervert" has halted or canned movement in getting needed transgender public accommodations bills passed, as well as protections for all LGBT people. 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 gain access to the spaces.

To date, 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 Senate Bill 735/House Bill 1577. The same week Baker’s Best-of-the-Best award was rescinded by the chamber, Massachusetts Faith Leaders for Freedom, a diverse group of clergy from across the Bay State, invited their congregations to participate in a Weekend of Faith for Transgender Non-Discrimination. Activities included prayer to support the passage of the bill, hosting a letter-writing party during coffee hour, and 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 the recent Weekend of Faith. JeanMarie Gossard, field director for Freedom Massachusetts, shared her experience: "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 cisgender, come if you are transgender, come. You are welcome here.' 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."

This past weekend I too participated in the 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 Jim Crow era, which denied us access to lunch counters, water fountains, and restrooms in restaurants, libraries, gas stations, and theaters. And as a lesbian, I know that policing my transgender brothers and sisters using public bathrooms gravely impact gender-nonconforming people, too. Democracy can only begin when those at the margins can experience what others take for granted. Hopefully, Gov. Baker realizes this too.

REV. IRENE MONROE is a writer, speaker, and theologian living in Cambridge, Mass.

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