Thursday, January 17, 2013

Back to Beacon Hill for (Full) Transgender Equality

 Constituents waiting to talk to their legislators about co-sponsoring
"An Act Relative to Equal Access in Hospitals, Public Transportation, Nursing Homes, Supermarkets, Retail Establishments, and all other places open to the public"

Post by Laura Kiritsy, GLAD Manager of Public Education

I was at the State House today for the first time since the big, celebratory, ceremonial signing of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill almost exactly one year ago (my colleague Jennifer Levi wrote a nice reflection on that event for our blog). Given that, you may be surprised to hear that my trip to Beacon Hill today was for a Legislative Day of Action in support of a bill called “An Act Relative to Equal Access in Hospitals, Public Transportation, Nursing Homes, Supermarkets, Retail Establishments, and all other places open to the public.” The Equal Access Bill, as we call it, would add protections for transgender people in public accommodations to our state’s non-discrimination laws.

What, you say? Didn’t the transgender community get these vital protections when Gov. Patrick signed the Transgender Equal Rights Bill? Unfortunately, the answer is no. These protections were stripped out of the final bill that passed in the midst of the seemingly endless – and unnecessarily distracting -- debate over bathroom access for transgender people. So, transgender people are protected from discrimination in housing, employment, education and credit, but we still have work to do.
Our work is to educate people about the fact that when we talk about public accommodations, we are talking about so much more than bathrooms. We’re talking about just about everywhere we go between home, school, and/or work: the grocery store, the mall, banks, movie theaters, restaurants, nursing homes, healthcare facilities, the bus and any other mode of public transportation, government buildings, etc. – the list of public places where transgender people can still lawfully be denied entrance or service in Massachusetts is endless. And it does not make sense that, under current law, transgender people cannot be denied employment at some of these places simply because of who they are, but they can otherwise be lawfully excluded from accessing them.
We began the work of educating our legislators with today’s Day of Action, and I think we’re off to a great start. Heading up to the State House, I was feeling a little worried that few people would show up, after the years of organizing, educating and lobbying our community had already put into passing the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. So I was heartened to walk into a State House conference room this morning to find it overflowing with folks ready to go talk to their legislators about co-sponsoring the Equal Access Bill. People came from as far away as Pittsfield. One woman had rescheduled a flight out of town so that she could attend the Day of Action. Another woman had her toddler-sized granddaughter in tow. Over the course of two hours, a non-stop stream of people were in and out of the room, picking up informational packets about the bill to give to their legislators and returning  later to tell us what they heard in response. We even got a visit from State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a staunch supporter of the LGBT community.
It’s a good thing my colleagues Michelle Weiser and Maryse Pearce joined me, because there was plenty of work to be done helping people figure out who their legislators were and where their offices were located. To be sure, GLAD staffers weren’t the only ones doing the work. The MassachusettsTransgender Political Coalition did a superb job organizing the event and kept things humming throughout. The folks from MassEquality and the MassachusettsACLU were there, doing their part. All of these organizations -- and many others – are part of the coalition that will be working to pass this bill.
But we can’t do it without the support of the broader community – like all of the great folks who showed up today to drum up support for this bill on Beacon Hill. In the coming months, there will be plenty for all of us to do – sharing our stories about what it means to be transgender or a transgender ally; educating people about what public accommodations are and explaining why transgender people need and deserve these critical protections. What will you do to make sure that transgender people are finally, fully equal under the law?

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