Friday, January 20, 2012

‘This is what comes from turning to each other rather than on each other’

I have goosebumps. Not because of the frigid weather, but because I’m still thrilled with yesterday’s ceremonial signing of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill by Gov. Deval Patrick.

In the ornate Senate Reading Room at the State House – which was packed from front to back – the transgender community received a very public, long overdue affirmation and celebration of their dignity and their rights as citizens of this Commonwealth, and I’m grateful I was a part of this historic event, which was emceed by state Rep. Carl Sciortino, a stalwart steward of the legislation. As Gov. Patrick said of the bill’s passage, “This is what comes from turning to each other rather than on each other.”

Indeed, Massachusetts has taken another big step forward in treating all of its citizens equally under the law. “No individual should face discrimination because of who they are,” Gov. Patrick said later in his speech. “And for that reason, this legislation is an achievement, not only for transgender people, but for all of those who stand up for and care about respect for basic human dignity.”

It was also gratifying to hear the Governor acknowledge GLAD’s work to pass the bill, along with our coalition partners the Mass. Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), MassEquality and the Mass. Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

It was equally as inspiring to hear from other elected officials and advocates who joined the ceremony. After the governor, Attorney General Martha Coakley, another early proponent of the bill, took to the podium and noted that while the Governor got to sign the bill, “I get to enforce it.” She added that she hoped she wouldn’t have to do too much of that. We share her hope, though in brief remarks to the crowd, GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi made clear we are looking forward to working with the AG’s office on enforcing the law, which takes effect July 1.

State Rep. Byron Rushing offered an apology on behalf of Beacon Hill for the ways in which trans residents have suffered in the Commonwealth because of a lack of legal protections. “We should always ask for your forgiveness that transgender people were treated terribly in this state with no recourse,” said Rep. Rushing, one of the most eloquent and ardent allies of the LGBT community serving in the legislature.

And while House Speaker Robert DeLeo acknowledged that passage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill took a little longer than he initially predicted when he spoke at a MassEquality Valentine’s Day celebration back in 2009, he added that “[the] bottom line is we got it done.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that they didn’t get it completely done, since the bill that passed was stripped of public accommodations protections, meaning that trans people can still be subject to discrimination in many public places such as coffee shops, buses, hotels, movie theaters, etc. It’s a shortfall in the new law that state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz called out during her remarks that prompted a loud round of applause from the crowd. The work continues!

But the most inspiring comment of the ceremony, in my opinion, came from MTPC Executive Director Gunner Scott, quoting author and academic Cornel West: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” There was a lot of justice in the Senate Reading Room yesterday.

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