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MTPC Honors DeLeo with Transgender Ally Award

by Dan Meyer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 13, 2012

The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition presented House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) with its Transgender Ally Award on Thursday for his efforts to protect the rights of the state's trans residents.

"Speaker DeLeo has been a strong and vocal advocate of the Transgender Rights Bill," said MTPC executive director Gunner Scott in an interview earlier this week. "He has worked with many legislators in his leadership circle to help pull the bill through this past session."

DeLeo remained humble while accepting the award that he received during a fundraiser for Lawyers for Transgender Rights at the Estate nightclub in Boston. He hugged Scott before he gave credit to state Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford) for introducing the Transgender Rights Bill in the House.

Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY;) Sciortino and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders staffers were among those who attended the event.

Scott chose DeLeo to receive the award because of his role in securing the bill's passage last year.

"If you had said to me, 22 years ago, when I was first elected to the Legislature, that Bob DeLeo would be up here accepting the Transgender Ally Award, I would've said 'you're out of your mind,'" said DeLeo immediately after he accepted the award. "Now, I sort of feel good about myself because I have evolved. I've learned quite a bit. There were many times when I wanted to say 'I give up. There's no way I can do it,'"

Sciortino received the same award in 2010, while Attorney General Martha Coakley was the 2011 recipient.

DeLeo first championed LGBT civil rights while working House Committee on Ways and Means. He was one of the first state legislators to allocate funds for LGBT youth. DeLeo persisted in these efforts in spite of receiving hate mail from his constituents and others from across the country.

He also spoke personally about his experience meeting homeless teenagers who had been kicked out of their homes after coming out. "I knew the end of the day that I, as the speaker of the House, could make a difference in their lives," he said. "That's what I want to be remembered as-the speaker who made a difference."

Asked why she attended the fundraiser, homeless advocate Laura Plummer said education needs to become a priority.

"Rights are constantly evolving and [events like this] help stay connected and up-to-date on basic civil liberties," she said.

Plummer also mentioned that many of the homeless people she encounters are trans, which requires her to develop a strong relationship with LGBT advocates. And she wasn't the only one at the awards ceremony who had homelessness and other social issues on their minds.

Upon accepting his award, DeLeo said that 2012 needs to be about protecting LGBT youth from families who throw them out. "This is the next project that I am working on," he said. "As a matter of fact, I just talked to the chairman of the [House Committee on] Ways and Means to work on putting funds in the budget... to help these kids who are in need in a very, very difficult time in their lives."

In spite of these efforts to make Massachusetts a better place for its trans residents, Scott believes the commonwealth still has a lot of work to do.

"Massachusetts is actually lagging a bit behind when it comes to civil rights issues, particularly for transgender communities," he said. "I do hope that [Speaker DeLeo's actions] definitely provided a visibility to other states that may be contemplating similar legislation as well as visibility to issues of employment discrimination that transgender people face."

Scott added that he hoped DeLeo's efforts will raise awareness on a federal level, with efforts to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Capitol Hill stalled.

Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA’s LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.


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