Mass. Legislation Now Protects Transgender Community
On July 1, Massachusetts became the 16th state to enact a gender identity equal rights law as part of its non-discrimination policy. The Transgender Equal Rights Bill, now called the Act Relative to Gender Identity, will protect individuals against discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit.
Starting last year, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), along with other rights groups like MassEquality, introduced the bill to the Massachusetts Congress and worked to educate the community in the hopes of ending discrimination around the state.
"The MTPC was the lead organizer on the campaign for the Transgender Equal Rights bill," said MTPC Executive Director Gunner Scott, one of the lead organizers of a group that submitted the bill. "We worked with our partner organizations to craft original legislation and we organized the community to be able to go up and educate legislators through one-on-one individual meetings and testifying at hearings."
In addition to lobbying and encouraging conversation with local officials, MTPC used a rather large media push called the "I Am...Transpeople Speak" campaign, to educate and inform citizens of Massachusetts about the transgender community. The project consists of dozens of videos that feature people sharing their stories about living as a transgender individual, or forging a strong personal connection with someone in the relative community.
Scott’s excitement about the passage of the bill extends beyond the legal implications that the new act carries. "This will hopefully empower community members to step forward when they are facing discrimination," he said. "Furthermore, it will be proactive in educating state agencies, employers, school systems on treating transgender people fairly and equally like all other residents."
"Thank you for all your hard work and being who you are and being brave by coming out to whoever that is around," Scott told the transgender community. "Whether that’s a small group of family and friends or people at your job...this work is not done in a vacuum. Without the hard work, this wouldn’t be happening."
From here on, groups or organizations that continue to discriminate against the transgender community will face punishment through state agencies that enforce the Massachusetts Non-Discrimination Laws. To file a complaint, persons who feel violated can contact the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination, who will then perform an investigation into the incident or ongoing issue. Right now, the most important thing is to get the word out.
"We need to send a message to people in the state that transgendered people should not be discriminated against and we hope to change the way society and culture treat transgender people," said Scott.
Scott conceded that this education wasn’t an overnight thing, saying that in order to open people’s eyes to the plight of the transgender community, media visibility in the local arena is key.
Transgender individuals should continue to speak out and share their stories; otherwise, people will continue to remain ignorant. And despite some stereotypes still visible on the TV and movie screens, there has been a shift in the portrayal of transgender individuals in the past year or two that humanizes the community, thereby making it easier to understand and accept as a reality.
Alongside MTPC throughout the fight to get the law passed was MassEquality, led by Executive Director Kara Suffredini, who identifies herself as a gender-queer individual.
"The support with this bill is widespread and there was much celebration at the moment of its passage," said Suffredini, who called the act "life-changing" and said it will begin affecting the community immediately.
But there is still work to do, according the MassEquality executive director.
"Transgender people are still not protected in public accommodations," which means any public space that isn’t one’s home or workplace, said Suffredini. Places like restaurants, gas stations and banks are free to continue discriminating without consequence.
Other state laws that include gender identity protections are different, and do have a clause that states transgender people have the right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations, but it does not offer complete protection.
Asked why 15 other states include public accommodations but Massachusetts does not, Suffredini said that people in the state have just enough knowledge to understand the need for basic civil equality, "but not enough for them that our opponents weren’t able on some level to successfully lower support for some of the protections in the bill."
As the year passes by, the work and struggle for equality must continue. Thankfully, with the new protections, educating the masses will only be easier as more transgender people will feel more comfortable coming out.
"And so," says Suffredini, "more people will get to know transgender people... and will become more comfortable and then supportive of the full civil rights protections that they deserve."
For a Q&A on the new legislation, visit www.glad.org