Sunday, February 7, 2016
#TransBillMA: Making Transgender Equality a Mass. Reality
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As a state senator serving the Second Suffolk District of Massachusetts, I go to work every day at the State House, located in the heart of Boston on Beacon Hill. It is there, under the State House's iconic golden dome, where I am reminded of the Commonwealth's storied past in progressive politics.

In Massachusetts we're proud of our state's role in--as our Governor put it in the days following the Boston Marathon bombings--"inventing America." Massachusetts was the birthplace not just of the America Revolution, but of public education, and the abolitionist movement. We passed meaningful healthcare reform, providing nearly every Massachusetts resident access to fair and reliable medical services. We were the first state in the nation to legalize marriage for loving same-sex couples. And in 2011 we established non-discrimination protections covering gender identity. If you're even a little bit of a policy wonk, all of this is no surprise.

What is a surprise, though, is how our democracy continues to turn a blind legislative eye to the daily struggles with discrimination faced by our transgender fellow Bay Staters.

Imagine you're a trans person out running errands. On your way home, you stop for a bite to eat at a local coffee shop. As you approach the register to order your sandwich, the store manager approaches you, saying you are disturbing customers and not welcome in their business.

Currently under Massachusetts law, you're out of luck.

According to a recent survey, 65 percent of transgender people living in Massachusetts reported experiencing discrimination in an area of public accommodation.

65 percent is 65 percent too many. No one should be made to feel unsafe because of their identity. Not here, not anywhere.

That's exactly why I filed S.735, An Act relative to transgender anti-discrimination, in the Massachusetts legislature, a bill providing equal access to public places regardless of gender identity.

People who lived through or have seen pictures of the 1950s and '60s civil rights sit-ins at lunch counters and in the backs of buses will remember that public accommodations are fundamental to equal rights in the United States. Public accommodations are basically any place you are when you are not at home. If you take the train to school, catch a movie with friends, or grab a bite to eat after work, you are enjoying public accommodations.

But public accommodations protections don't just allow us to go about our everyday lives. They have fundamental implications for societal culture and economic prosperity.

A 2014 study found that transgender people who reported experiencing discrimination are 84 percent more likely to experience adverse physical effects, like violence and chronic stress, and 99 percent more likely to experience emotional effects, like anger and sadness.

A frustrated, sad workforce is less efficient in the workplace, leading to economic decline for the employer. Because corporate culture is crucial to economic prosperity, nearly 70 percent of US leading Fortune 500 companies (e.g. Google) have nondiscrimination policies that explicitly cover gender identity.

And states and local government are noticing the benefits of these policies, too. Across the nation, 17 states and more than 200 cities and towns have passed non-discrimination laws protecting gender identity in public spaces.

This time around Massachusetts will not be the first state to implement these protections, but we ought to be the next.

And just when you thought the argument for equal access to public accommodations couldn't get any stronger: All of New England's major sports teams have backed passed of this reform! The Red Sox, The Patriots, The Bruins and The Celtics have all come out in support of the transgender anti-discrimination bill. It's sensible for businesses and it's the right thing to do.

And if sports doesn't get you, hopefully motherhood will. Some of the most heartrending testimony I've heard in the State House is from parents of transgender individuals who worry constantly about the safety of their children -- from physical assaults and from the lasting emotional bruises that occur when someone is spitefully denied service for being a "freak." As the mother of two young children, I hope my little ones will always be treated with dignity and decency in their public lives -- in the bookstore and on the bus -- regardless of their gender identity.

As it was with independence, public education, universal health care, and same-sex marriage, may Massachusetts be the beacon of light in transgender equality we all know it can and should be.

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