It’s just that time of year. Trees are budding, birds are singing and LGBTQ people are pulling out their best rainbow-colored apparel. By the time you read this, Pride season will be in full swing. I’ve already marched in one parade myself. If you live in or near the New England area, you will very likely spot this 6’4” fightin’ former pageant queen at a Pride near you!
Victories in our community
It has been quite a year and there’s a lot to be proud of, a lot of victories to celebrate: President Obama’s and the NAACP’s separate announcements of support for same-sex marriage; the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing gay and lesbians to serve openly in the military; and the passage here in Massachusetts and in Connecticut of transgender anti-discrimination laws.
CT v. Massachusetts Trans bills
That last is of particular pride for me and most relevant to this column. It’s also something I’ve been thinking about an awful lot over the last few weeks. I can’t speak to direct experience with the Connecticut version of trans rights, but I have been actively involved as one of a great many people working for the last several years to pass the Transgender Civil Rights Bill here in Massachusetts. It was passed officially last November, signed ceremoniously in January and goes into effect on July 1 of this year.
Have to wait for the law to take effect, what is with that?
I’ve been thinking about that time frame quite a bit lately. It’s an odd feeling to be told that you can have rights now, but not just at this very moment. Come July, the words “gender identity” will be added into a number of existing sections of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This will include sections relevant to employment discrimination, housing, services and hate crimes.
But not just yet. Until July 1, I suppose it’s like a transgender-discrimination going-out-of-business sale. “Get your discrimination in while you still can! Crazy Eddie is slashing discriminatory acts!! All transfolks must go!”
Basic human rights
And don’t even get me started on how weird I think it is that so many people had to work so hard for so long just to get a couple of words added into a few paragraphs. Or, that basic human rights can be boiled down to mere wordplay.
Yes, we have a new law to protect us. But it doesn’t cover everything and it won’t magically make discrimination against transgender people simply go away. It’s simply a start. A fortress of law from which battles against discrimination can be launched.
The new law sends the message that discrimination against people with regard to their gender identity is no longer implicitly approved of by the lack of any reference to it. The new law is a sword, not an atom bomb.
Still inequality follows us, anywhere
There still will be many of us who struggle to live our lives in the face of prejudice, ignorance and, yes, outright discrimination. Given my well-known activism, I hear a lot of stories. One story I received in my inbox recently particularly got under my skin.
It happened here, recently, in Massachusetts, in the limbo between the passage of our new law, known officially as “An Act Relative To Gender Identity,” and the date it is to officially take effect.
Without sharing any personally identifying details, suffice it to say that this transperson had been a hard worker. A genuinely model employee in their field. They had put up gladly with all kinds of workplace unpleasantness. Long hours, extra duties, misogynistic attitudes, and difficult personalities. All in the name of being the best team player and company asset they could be. In short, they liked their job, excelled in their position and were well-liked by coworkers and customers alike.
The kind of employee companies pray they will find.
Then one day, word got out that they were trans. And within a very short time, this highly praised employee found themselves ostracized, harassed and then summarily fired on the flimsiest of pretenses.
And you know what? I honestly have no idea if they have any real recourse. Because it takes seven months (and many years before), to add two words to a few paragraphs.
Law is incomplete
And the new law doesn’t even cover everything. Public accommodations protections were left out in order to pass the larger bulk of the proposed bill. Politics are about compromise and incremental victories. Rome wasn’t built in a day and full civil rights don’t happen overnight.
I can now technically not be fired from my job simply on account of my gender identity. But I can still be harassed or even arrested for using the restroom. I can be ejected from a restaurant. Turned off the bus. If a hate crime is committed against me, it can be prosecuted as such in a court of law. But I still have reason to be afraid to call the police.
So when I am marching this summer, in Pride parades around the region, I will be standing tall, proud, and as visible as possible. I will be thanking all of you: transfolks, our families and, most of all, our allies, for all of the hard work you have done to make these victories a reality.
But I will still have my fist raised high. And my voice will ring loud. Because what we have achieved is only a beginning. A foundation, hopefully.
Let us take the opportunity of this Pride season and these many celebrations to knit our communities even stronger together. Because there is much hard work still to be done and we need the strength of every one of us to do it!
*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: [email protected].