Freedom Massachusetts: Public Hearing on Transgender Rights

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By: Sara Brown/TRT Assistant Editor—

BOSTON, Mass.—Transgender rights advocates need your testimony and attendance to Freedom Massachusetts’ public hearing on October 6 to push legislation forward to ensure full protections for transgender Bay Staters. This comes after the trans activists, leaders and allies took the State House by storm last month demanding to be legally protected in public places.

“Discrimination has no place in our state,” said Mason Dunn, co-chair of Freedom Massachusetts and Executive Director at Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

During Freedom Massachusetts’ Lobby Day, activists requested lawmakers pass a new bill that would offer trans and non-binary Massachusetts residents legal protections. Freedom Massachusetts is the bipartisan campaign working to ensure all people are treated fairly and equally under the law. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) and Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), would protect trans people from discrimination in public places such as a restaurant or movie theater.

At the event, Dunn said 13 cities and towns have supported Freedom Massachusetts and just announced the city of Lynn as the latest to join in. In addition, more than 100 businesses have also publicly supported the cause, like Google and Eastern Bank, among others. Facebook was the newest business to back Freedom Massachusetts, which the company did on Lobby Day. [pullquote]Across the nation, there are 17 states and 200 cities and towns that have passed non-discrimination laws protecting gender identity in public spaces, according to Freedom Massachusetts.[/pullquote]

In 2011, the state passed a bill that provided legal protections to transgender people in the areas of housing, employment and public education. However, legislation did not include protections in public accommodations. Activists say it’s now time to finish the job.

“Those are pieces of rights. Human rights are whole,” Provost said. “We lose our wholeness until everyone’s rights are made whole.”

Senate President Stan Rosenberg agreed.

“We didn’t finish the job,” Rosenberg said. “Here in Massachusetts, discrimination is unacceptable. We are morally bound to take this path. We have to complete what we started.”

Across the nation, there are 17 states and 200 cities and towns that have passed non-discrimination laws protecting gender identity in public spaces, according to Freedom Massachusetts. The states that have these laws in place already are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.[pullquote]“Here in Massachusetts, discrimination is unacceptable. We are morally bound to take this path. We have to complete what we started.”—Senate President Stan Rosenberg[/pullquote]

The new law would require equal treatment for transgender and gender non-conforming patrons. It would also require that businesses not refuse service to transgender customers. If the new bill is passed, it would not require new construction of restrooms or other sex-segregated facilities.

In the past, Gov. Charlie Baker has said he prefers the current law. Currently, the state law provides nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit/lending, and public education. Public accommodations protections for the transgender community are not included.

When asked about Lobby Day, Baker’s office said they enjoyed meeting with activists.

“The governor’s office appreciated meeting with Freedom Massachusetts and the administration fully supports the Transgender Equal Rights Act that became law in 2011 because the administration believes everyone in Massachusetts should be protected against discrimination,” said Baker’s Press Secretary Elizabeth Guyton.

However, the 2011 law that Gov. Baker’s office supports (Transgender Equal Rights Act) excludes protections for the transgender community in public spaces such as restaurants, retail stores, government offices, malls, transportation, bathrooms and hospitals.

State Rep. Paul Tucker (D-Salem), said during his time as police chief, Salem passed an ordinance protecting public spaces for everyone. He attended a Salem city council meeting and became moved by people’s stories. [pullquote]“History will look favorably on what we did. It’s important as police that we protect everyone.”—State Rep. Paul Tucker (D-Salem)[/pullquote]

“It’s interesting considering Salem’s past. We had hysteria. We treated people unfairly,” Rep. Tucker said. “History will look favorably on what we did. It’s important as police that we protect everyone.”

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) said there is value in people sharing their stories.

“Many of you are going to be faced with difficult questions; tell your truth,” she said. “That’s how we are going to change hearts and minds.”

Kasey Suffredini, co-chair of Freedom Massachusetts, agreed that hearing personal stories can make a difference.

“When you think back to our battle with marriage equality, when lawmakers heard stories it really changed hearts, minds and votes,” he said.

After the members of the community were done speaking, activists went to their representative’s office and spoke with them about the importance of the bill. Dr. Kit Stubbs was one of them. Stubbs came out as gender non-binary this year.

“I was really nervous,” they* said about lobbying. “I have never really lobbied before. However, it turned out to be really inspiring.”

Stubbs said they have friends that plan their whole day around going to public places they know they won’t get harassed. [pullquote]According to Freedom Massachusetts, 65 percent of transgender people living in Massachusetts reported experiencing discrimination in areas of public accommodation.[/pullquote]

“That’s scary,” they* said. “No one should have that kind of fear. Massachusetts is not as fast moving and progressive as we think. There are already 17 other states that have these laws in place. We need to catch up.”

According to Freedom Massachusetts, 65 percent of transgender people living in the Commonwealth reported experiencing discrimination in areas of public accommodation.

Suffredini said over 200 people participated in the event. He also said he was proud of everyone who took the time to tell lawmakers their stories.

“It takes a lot of courage and personal risk to share your story,” he said.

Suffredini said the business support is an important aspect to the bill.

“It’s in everyone’s economic interest to have these practices in place,” he said. “For example, we think of Massachusetts as having some of the best students. The thing is once they graduate, we want to retain these students and have them in our work force. However, we are losing them to states who have these legal protections in place.”

Suffredini said they want to have the bill passed by the end of the year.

“Time is of the essence,” he said.

To support SB 735 and HB 1577, An Act Relative To Transgender Anti-Discrimination, that extend non-discrimination protections to transgender people in public spaces, and to share your testimony by October 6th, visit Freedom Massachusetts Testimony Page. The public hearing will take place the same day at the Massachusetts State House, Gardner Auditorium at 12:45 p.m. To find out more information about Freedom Massachusetts, visit www.freedommassachusetts.org.

*Preferred pronoun by interviewee. 

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