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Celebrating a historic step forward on transgender rights

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  November 16, 2011 05:53 PM

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ACLU of Massachusetts legislative counsel Gavi Wolfe wrote the following guest blog.

Congratulations, Massachusetts! Today, with the passage of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill by our state legislature, the Commonwealth has taken another important step forward for equality. Governor Patrick has pledged to sign the legislation into law.

This means that Massachusetts will now provide vital protections in employment, education, housing, and credit--and against hate crimes--that transgender residents of the Commonwealth urgently need. We now join 15 other states, the District of Columbia, and nearly 150 cities and towns around the country that have passed laws and ordinances protecting transgender people from discrimination.

Massachusetts is a better state for embracing civil rights. More important, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents will be better off.

Discrimination is not an abstract concept; in addition to demeaning people, it gets in the way of making ends meet. This new law addresses real hardships faced by our transgender fellow-residents.

A February 2011 report from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force found that 76 percent of the estimated 33,000 transgender people in Massachusetts have been harassed on the job because of their gender identity; 20 percent have lost a job because of their gender identity; and 17 percent have been denied a promotion because they are transgender.

In the words of Rachel Jette, who was fired from her job because of her gender identity, "a transgender person whether they be male or female accepts the fact that they may lose many things such as friends and family when they transition. The opportunity to earn a decent living, to have a place to live, or to be able to walk the streets without fear of being molested or killed should not be among those losses."

The new law will guarantee transgender people, at long last, an equal shot at obtaining everyday basics we all need--a job, a place to live, an education.

Great credit is due to the advocates and ordinary individuals in the transgender community who have fought for equality for years, and even decades. This victory is the direct result of the hundreds of people who were determined to tell their stories--at public hearings, in the press, and with individual legislators--until they were really heard. And legislative leadership deserves real credit for listening, and for acting.

Unfortunately, the bill passed today is not perfect, because it does not include the public accommodations protections--basic equal access and treatment in public places, from restaurants to movie theaters--that are a core part of the civil rights enjoyed by all other groups affected by discrimination. That is a painful and substantial omission. Nonetheless, the legislation represents a historic and much-needed step forward in supporting full civil rights protections for the transgender community.

Advocates and the bill’s lead sponsors--Representatives Carl Sciortino and Byron Rushing, and Senators Ben Downing and Sonia Chang-Diaz, who championed this bill with unwavering commitment--fought for full and complete equality, including protection from discrimination in public accommodations, every step along the way.

In the end, today’s victory is a landmark that we should all celebrate and savor. And then we should keep working.

For more information, see the ACLU of Massachusetts web pages on transgender rights and our work for equality.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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