Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz
Massachusetts Second Suffolk District
Testimony in support of An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes (Senate No. 1687)

I’m here today to testify in support of S. 1687, An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes, of which I am a co-sponsor.

There are a lot of people here today that have already spoken or will speak more eloquently than me on this bill. But I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to share with you just a few of the real stories from my district and give voice to my constituents who experience discrimination and violence solely because of their gender identity, and without the recourse or government protection that is rightly granted to other groups who are targeted because of who they are.

These stories give life to why this bill is so important and why the time has come to enact this legislation.

In my district, there’s the resident of Jamaica Plain and former Northeastern University student who was denied a co-op opportunity because of his gender identity.

This constituent had a life-long goal to work in Criminal Justice and went to Northeastern to pursue this goal. After his sophomore year, he tried to secure a co-op position, but, while the co-op department was supportive, the potential employers—upon learning of his gender preferences—refused to interview him.

Because he was transgender, he was the only one of the 200 Criminal Justice students who wasn’t placed in a job.

Without the experience and financial support of co-op, he was forced to leave Northeastern and abandon his life-long dream.

Fortunately for this constituent, he found another career pursuit. As he put it, “the experience…made me realize that my calling was to be a transgender leader,…working to make…the world a better place for everyone to experience and express their gender.”

While this constituent turned a hurtful and harmful experience—and, I might mention, an economically harmful one for our state—into a positive life event, his experience illustrates the inequities faced by too many transgender individuals and illustrates the corresponding need for this bill.

With this legislation, no person could be denied a job solely on the basis of his or her gender identity or expression—without regard to things like experience, skill set, and qualifications…the things that should matter.

The mother of a transgendered woman in my district also shared her story. This woman lives her life worrying about the safety of her daughter from violence on a daily basis. She believes that, if only the public were more aware of what she’s seen—that transgender individuals are born with the desire to be the opposite sex and that being transgender is not a choice, there would be greater understanding and acceptance.

Although she concedes that it can be a difficult thing to understand, she asks that others put themselves in her shoes, saying, “I know that, if it were your child or loved one, you would want them to be protected.”

S. 1687 would do just that: it would afford innocent individuals and the people who love them a level of protection that does not exist today, by amending the Commonwealth’s hate crimes laws to be explicitly inclusive of transgender people.

Stories like this from my district are not the only thing that shows why we need this bill.

The numbers, too, make the need clear.

Transgender residents in Massachusetts face disproportionately high levels of violence:

Facing a 1-in-12 chance of being murdered, where the average the population faces odds of 1-in-18,000.

This bill is widely supported throughout the community, including by law enforcement, business, and labor leaders.

Finally, another simple fact deserves mention simply because of the falsehoods that have been spread about this bill: nothing in this bill would protect someone who commits a crime in a public facility. What is now illegal would remain illegal, and this bill in no way offers protection to anyone who breaks the law by entering a public bathroom for illicit purposes.

It is telling that organizations that support women and victims of violence – including Mass. NOW, Jane Doe, Mass. Commission on the Status of Women, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and others – fully support this bill and have denounced the misleading campaign waged by those who oppose equal rights for transgender people.

So, while you will hear from many people today on both sides of this issue, the path for this bill is clear. Massachusetts is a state known not only for its support of civil rights but for its role as a beacon in this movement.

Let’s not let this moment pass us by. Let’s continue to show the rest of the country and the world that in Massachusetts we have the courage of our convictions, and that this is a state where the words “fairness” and “equality” really mean something—even when the people laying claim to these principles are different from us.

This is what the world saw when John Adams defended the British soldiers’ right to a fair trial on principle, rather than out of sympathy for their cause.

This is what the nation saw when Massachusetts put guns into the hands of Black soldiers in the MA 54th Regiment in the Civil War.

This is what our citizens saw when Massachusetts’ all-male legislature recognized women’s right to own property before most other states did, during the early years of the women’s rights movement.

And this is what we all saw when Massachusetts was the first in the nation to grant same-sex marriage rights in 2003.

We have the opportunity to prove our reputation for fairness and courage on behalf of those who need it here again today.

For that reason, and for all our constituents whose stories you’ll hear today, I urge the Committee to report this bill out favorably. Thank you for your hard work on this important issue.

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