JP activists secure transgender rights

December 2, 2011
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With plenty of help from Jamaica Plain politicians and advocates—a new state law protecting transgender peoples’ rights was passed this month.

The bill was co-sponsored in the Senate by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, and it received crucial behind-the-scenes support in the House from state Rep. Liz Malia, advocates said. Prominent among those advocates were two JP residents, Gunner Scott, head of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), and Carly Burton director of public policy and political affairs for the LGBT advocacy group MassEquality.

“These are really substantial protections that are critical to people’s lives,” Chang-Díaz said.

“We are really happy to have gotten the majority of the protections we sought for transgender people in Massachusetts,” Scott said.

MTPC’s six-year effort to get the bill passed included extensive lobbying and a public education campaign, Scott told the Gazette. One part of that campaign—a website called “I Am: Transgender People Speak,” (transpeoplespeak.org)—was inspired by “Gender Crash,” an open mic for transgender people that Scott ran at Spontaneous Celebrations between 2000 and 2009, he said.

“Part of the inspiration came from that, from hearing people tell their stories,” he said.

The new law makes it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in housing, employment and education, and it means assaults on transgender people can be prosecuted as hate crimes.

It does not guarantee equal access to public accommodations—a protection traditionally covered in civil rights legislation for other groups, and one that was sought by advocates of the bill. .

Advocates plan to file public accommodation legislation next year, said Scott and Burton.

The public accommodations provisions would make it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in any public setting. “The classic example is the lunch counter,” Chang-Díaz said, referring to the black civil rights struggles on the 1960s.

Many, including 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, opposed the legislation—which was nicknamed “the bathroom bill” by opponents because of fears that passage would mean mandated genderless restrooms.

Public accommodation protections would allow people to use to choose what bathroom to use based on their gender-identity.

“I would not dignify that critique as a true one in real life, but it did keep us from getting to our vote count,” Chang-Díaz said of the “bathroom bill” argument.

“We might have gotten it through, but it would have been really risky, like lighting a fire in the underbrush. It might have gotten out of control,” Malia told the Gazette.

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