There's nothing like a victory for equal rights to restore my faith in human courage and basic decency. So I braved the cold in order to show up for Governor Deval Patrick's ceremonial and very public signing of the Transgender Equal Rights Law at the State House this morning.
It was standing-room-barely as Massachusetts luminaries and civil rights advocates gathered in the ornate Senate Reading Room to watch our Commonwealth take another important step forward for equal rights under the law.
"I sign this bill as a matter of conscience; people should be able to come before their government as equals," proclaimed Governor Patrick as he signed "An Act Relative to Gender Identity" into law. The new law will ensure 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.
In so doing, we 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. The legislation represents a historic and much-needed step forward in supporting full civil rights protections for the transgender community--and for the principle of equal justice for all.
The public affirmation of the importance of equal rights to our democracy is both important and inspiring, as was the number of dignitaries in the room who were eager and willing to stand up for what is right and just about America.
"This Act permits us to see our society as it should be," said Attorney General Martha Coakley, adding, "The governor gets to sign the bill, but I get to enforce it."
Other notable leaders in the room included Rep. Carl Sciortino--who gets credit for launching the effort--Auditor Suzanne Bump (who recalled the bad old days when Massachusetts still discriminated against gay couples willing to be foster parents), House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senator Ben Downing, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, a dozen courageous legislators, and Boston City Council leaders Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo.
"We were all born with equal rights as human beings," House Majority Whip Rep. Byron Rushing told the crowd. "You come to the government to protect those rights, to acknowledge those rights, and that is the great work of this bill."
To be sure, the bill passed today is imperfect, because it does not include the public accommodations protections--basic equal access and treatment in public places, from grocery stores to city busses--that are a core part of the civil rights enjoyed by all other groups affected by discrimination. There is more work to do.
Still, today marks an important victory for fair play and equal justice under the law--and that's something for which all residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should be proud.
"Passage of this bill shows that you have the power that you need to make the change you want in the world, if you work together," said Governor Patrick. "But this has not just been a discussion of the rights of transgender people. It is a discussion of the identity of this state of Massachusetts itself. And hopefully it will become a discussion of the identity and future of our nation."
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