Mass. Clerics Call for Trans Equality

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday April 6, 2011

Transgender residents of Massachusetts found allies in a group of leaders from the faith community who have renewed pressure on state lawmakers to pass a bill that would expand anti-discrimination laws, the Boston Globe reported on April 5.

Among the faith leaders seeking comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was state Episcopalian head Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, who told the newspaper that fully 25% of transgender Massachusetts residents had faced a loss of employment due to their gender identity. Almost all transgender citizens of the state had been harassed in some manner, he said.

"Supporting this legislation, and supporting transgender people in the life of the church and in secular society really has to do with the living out of my baptismal covenant," Shaw told the Globe.

The bill would cover transgender victims of bias crimes and ban discrimination based on gender identity in the areas of housing, education, and public accommodation, among others. The Globe noted that thirteen states have put similar laws on their books.

But Massachusetts may not join those states in the near future. State Rep. Carl Sciortino recollected how the bill had attracted strong legislative support from lawmakers in both the state house and the state senate--but no action was taken to advance the bill after a candidate for the governor's office, Charles Baker, chose the bill as a means of making political hay.

Calling it the "bathroom bill," Baker played on fears that such a bill could give sex criminals the opportunity to infiltrate women's restrooms and prey on underage girls or rape adult women.

Other anti-gay individuals and organizations took up the theme, with the Massachusetts Family Institute organizing a lobby day on April 8, 2010, to protest the bill. The "biology-based bathrooms" argument was prevalent at the lobby day, reported Bay Windows in an April 25, 2010, article.

"[F]ormer Fall River school superintendent Joseph Martins addressed attendees and painted a nightmarish scenario in which school officials would be powerless to stop hordes of teenage boys from charging into the girls' locker rooms to get a peek at their female classmates," the Bay Windows article reported.

"It is difficult enough to control student behavior, prevent discrimination of all students, and ensure the safety of all students without having to distinguish between truth and a lie of some student claiming, at will, a gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior other than that assigned sex at birth, simply to gain access to the opposite-at-birth-sex locker-rooms, showers, or lavatory facilities," Martins declared.

"Nothing in House Bill 1728 protects students using their birth-sex locker-rooms, showers, and lavatory facilities that may be in various stages of undress from unwanted eyeing or so-called, on purpose 'unintended' body touching by students of the opposite sex," Martins went on to assert.

The Massachusetts Family Institute also issued warnings to state lawmakers that depicted the bill as practically being an invitation to sex criminals, Bay Windows reported.

"Due to this wording, any man can legally gain access to facilities reserved for women and girls simply by indicating, verbally or non-verbally, that he inwardly feels female at the moment," an MFI-written brief stated. "There is no way to distinguish between someone suffering from 'Gender Identity Disorder' and a sexual predator looking to exploit this law. This is the dangerous reality of this bill."

The Globe article noted that following the midterm elections, the bill lost 35 supporters who did not run for re-election, or who were defeated at the polls. However, the bill reportedly still enjoys a great deal of support among the state's legislators; moreover, the article said, 135 clerics support the measure.

Meantime, one anti-gay Massachusetts group has taken a share of credit for a similar bill in Maryland being exiled to legislative oblivion.

"The homosexual lobby was hoping to get it passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor by April 11, when the Maryland legislative session ends," text at read. "But it appears the Senate leadership has had enough!"

The site's text went on to say that the bill was sent to the Rules Committee of the Maryland State Senate, which is a repository for bills that lawmakers do not wish to have to address.

"When we are through with the budget we'll have time to deal with other issues that might have a chance of passage," said Mike Miller, the president of the state senate, according to local newspaper the Baltimore Sun. "At this point in time I'd say the chances of passage of that bill are next to none."

"Gave all the Republicans your pics to get them fired up against this bill," an opponent of the Maryland bill wrote to MassResistance, which regularly publicizes photos of gays and transgender people, including minors. "Once again, I really can't thank you enough for all your help and moral support," the Maryland correspondent wrote.

"We're glad we could be part of the fight," text at read. "MassResistance will continue to help around the country in any way we can."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.