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Editorial: It Is Time for Massachusetts to Complete the Transition…

Time for Massachusetts to lead on human and civil rights again (WMassP&I)

Time for Massachusetts to lead on human and civil rights again (WMassP&I)

Better late than never.

On Thursday the Massachusetts Senate approved protections for transgender individuals’ right to access public accommodations. The House is set to approve a similar bill. While bathrooms have dominated this issue, the implications are far broader than the lavatory.

If enacted into law, this legislation would prohibit discrimination against transgendered individuals in countless areas including public services, restaurants, certain membership organizations, shops and other venues of commerce. Sadly, passage of this law has been hampered by Gov. Charlie Baker’s ambiguous orientation toward the issue. No further delay is warranted.

Beacon Hill is bending thoe arc toward justice. (WMassP&I)

Beacon Hill is bending thoe arc toward justice. (WMassP&I)

It would be wrong and easy to summarily dismiss all leery opponents as bigots. Some undoubtedly are, but many more are understandably, if ignorantly, fearful. Moreover, it can be difficult to distill the difference between sexual and gender identity, which both informs and confuses this issue.

Indeed, we admit having reservations ourselves. Of course a person can live, dress and act however their gender identity suits them, but this blog does struggle with the philosophy and mechanics of altering gender. Ultimately, such reservations must be set aside.

The reasons are simple. The first is this blog’s fierce commitment to human and civil rights. Every person has a right to the full spectrum of life in our society. That also obliges us to advocate for laws protecting that right and not permit our hesitations to hamper it.

The second is that science is on the side of transgender rights. Medicine and psychology recognize struggles with gender identity as legitimate. Proper address for these issues run a wide gamut, but that is between an individual and, where appropriate, their physical and mental healthcare professional. Thus, in our book, to discriminate against those who identify with a gender other than that of their birth, flies in the face of reason and fairness.

This is especially important as many transgender individuals often lack the resources to secure trained help to guide them through their transitions.

Many opponents lean on the canard that this law would allow transwomen to sneak into the little girls’ room and assault children. Such rubbish is no better and no less vile than the argument that gays and lesbians could not be teachers lest they be left alone with impressionable youth, ripe for recruitment.

Rather, using the facility where one is most comfortable, especially younger people, is essential to avoid bullying and discomfort they might encounter in the alternative.

Comparisons to other civil rights battles can muddle the situation, but are also instructive. The analog to the civil rights movement is not Woolworth’s lunch counter, but despicable racist, beliefs that black men pose a threat to white women. Sound familiar?

Charlie's new hit single... (created from results of google image searches & wikipedia)

Charlie’s greatest hits! (created from results of google image searches & wikipedia)

Unfortunately the red herrings about transgender rights were only given oxygen by Governor Baker’s hemming and hawing. After parading his gay brother around during the 2014 campaign, the governor suddenly doesn’t know how he identifies himself on civil rights issues.

Baker has said transmen and women should use whichever bathroom they feel comfortable, but he seems less comfortable with laws that extend actual protections to that effect and well beyond the loo, too. His stance has kindled discrimination, not snuffed it out.

Baker may not have been pied, but a series of direct actions against him blunted whatever power his stratospheric approval rating had to frustrate the issue.

Baker had a humiliating moment when he was heckled at an LGBT event in Boston. An honor from a similar national group had been already rescinded at US Rep Joseph Kennedy III’s instigation. A great deal of bourgeois Massachusetts, including The Boston Globe, while supportive of the trasngender cause, panned the disrespect shown to Charlie. Still, pelting him with boos had an effect.

Baker’s stance grew more equivocal and the legislature doubled its efforts to secure the votes needed to override a potential veto. The Senate approved the bill 33-4 Thursday. The House will follow soon.

It seems this transition to fuller legal equality will happen. The only question is what Baker will do. A veto seems unlikely, but possible. Most probable, he lets the trans bill become law without his signature. In any event his leadership on this civil rights matter—perhaps like a pastry to the face—has been vanilla.

Mass Commission Against Discrimiation seal.

To properly implement these new protections, state lawmakers should fortify the budget of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which enforces the Bay State’s civil rights laws. They should start with the budget that begins July 1.

New funds must boost staff and resources to stem any growth in the agency’s backlog upon taking on transgender public accommodation complaints. Other money should finance MCAD’s educational endeavors to help well-meaning people avoid violations.

No new money is not a reason to delay the trans bill, but passing this legislation ultimately could be the easy part. Enforcement—and funding it properly—may prove far trickier.