speaker_deleo_240grace sterling stowell

^ ( Left) Speaker DeLeo, at signing ceremony for the 2011 law; (right) Grace Sterling Stowell and Nancy Nangeroni, leaders in the fight to establish full civil rights protection for transgender people in Massachsuetts

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Four years ago Massachusetts joined the list of states according transgender people some civil rights protection. The law banned discrimination in housing. employment, lending, and public education.

Left out of the law, however, were “public accommodations” protections. Transgender people could still be denied service in stores and restaurants — indeed, all manner of public places. This omission now needs to be remedied. Transgender people cannot have fewer civil rights than the rest of us.

It has been the custom, rigidly, to see people as male or female, irrevocably, to the extent that a gender identity is socially imposed on you in all that you do. That custom is now seen to be mistaken. Gender identity is not perforce a subject for imposition; rather, it belongs to the arena of affirmation.

To put it quite simply : you are who YOU say you are, not who other people say you are.

During the past year, the fact of transgender has become commonplace. Not too long ago, the notion of transgender was strange and quite uncommon to see. Today we know, as a society, that transgender people are just like the rest of us in every aspect that matters.

The Boston Globed reports today that support for assuring public accommodations protections for transgender people is increasing smartly; that many businesses now want our transgender civil rights law amended to include such protections. (This growing support accords with the editorial that we at Here and Sphere wrote yesterday about “business progressivism” as an important new force in our nation’s politics.) The Globe also notes that State Senate President Stan Rosenberg supports amending the law and that members of the House support it as well.

Whether our state will enact this measure of social justice is now up to Speaker DeLeo. So far he has not decided. Nor has Governor Baker, who, according to the Globe, “prefers” the current law. That’s an interesting choice of verbs. Baker does NOT say he would veto the amendment if it reaches his desk. The implication is that if it reaches him, he will sign it, his “preference” notwithstanding.

Baker’s diffidence arises from his awareness that almost the entire House’s GOP 2011 membership opposed passage of the transgender rights bill; and that some vocal activists still oppose transgender rights. Baker does not want a fight with the House GOP caucus on an issue which, to him, as a social progressive, should not be an issue at all.

So : will the amended transgender rights bill reach Baker’s desk ? The finger of fate points directly at Speaker DeLeo. It’s his call. 123 of the House’s 160 members are Democrats — a super-majority. If DeLeo, a Democrat himself, supports the law, it passes and gets signed. If not, not.

Speaker DeLeo boasted of his support for the 2011 law. At the signing ceremony he said : “As my very first event as Speaker of the House, I went to the MassEquality dinner, and I had made a statement that we were going to get this done . . Henceforth, we as a Commonwealth will not have to tolerate hatred . . . I’m so proud to be part of such an important civil rights milestone.” Will the Speaker now finish the job that he had such an important part in beginning ?

We urge the Speaker to support this important grant of civil rights protection to our transgender neighbors, friends, and family. There’s a hearing on the proposed amendment this Thursday at the State House. Supporters should attend.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere.