In what advocacy groups are hailing as a historic move, Newton Mayor Setti Warren has appointed the first transgender representative to the city's Human Rights Commission.
Holly Ryan, a lifelong Newton resident and an activist for transgender rights, was named for a three-year term.
“Holly has a terrific record of public service here in our community,” said Warren. “She believes in equal rights for all people, transgender and otherwise, and she is going to be a great commissioner.”
This is the first time someone who is transgender has been named to the nine-member panel, Warren said.
Though there is no official agency that tracks the appointment of transgender public servants across the state, Ryan is one of just a handful of such public servants – not just in Massachusetts, but in the entire country, according to Kara Suffredini, Executive Director of MassEquality, a grassroots organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
“I think it’s historic in Newton and Massachusetts and across the country,” said Suffredini. “There are just not very many openly transgender leaders in any kind of city or state-wide or national office.”
Ryan said her appointment will allow her to educate people in town on transgender issues.
“It’s good for the community as a whole,” she said. “You need to let everybody have the chance to give back to their communities and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Ryan said that although she’s been target of hate groups in the past, she’s never had a problem with discrimination in Newton, where she’s raised her two children. She lives in the neighborhood she grew up in, she said, and has always felt accepted.
“Newton just seems to always embrace diversity, no matter what it is,” she said.
Gunner Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said that Ryan’s appointment is not only important because she is transgender, but because she is open about it.
“There are many transgender people involved with their communities that may not be out about being transgender because of the fear of being discriminated against,” he said.
Ryan’s appointment is made especially timely because Massachusetts recently passed a transgender equal rights bill, which Ryan helped get passed.
The bill, An Act Relative to Gender Identity, was signed into law last November, and made Massachusetts the sixteenth state to treat transgender citizens as a protected class, according to information on the Governor’s website. There are about 33,000 transgender residents living in the state, according to the website.
“Some of the significance here is that she’s openly transgender in a state that only recently passed basic civil rights protections for transgender people,” said Suffredini.
Ryan is the Director of Purchasing and Food Service at the Middlesex Human Service Agency, Inc. in Waltham. She serves on the board of the Bay State Stonewall Democrats and on the Massachusetts Department of Public Heath’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services LGBTQ Advisory Board. She is an elected member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee, and was the chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition from 2005-2008.
“I know what the pulse of the city is on this,” said Ryan. “It’s not just about the transgender community. It’s about human rights in general in the city of Newton.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.