Top photo: (l to r) Panelists Alexandra Chandler, Mimi Lemay, Valerie Frias, and Liz DeSelm share personal narratives and offer support for Question 3.
Bottom photo: Network Steering Committee members joined many of the participants at the MAHRC convening at the State House.
The Network is a Steering Committee member of the Massachusetts Human Rights Collaboration Coalition (MAHRC, formerly the Mass Association of Human Rights and Relations Commissions). On October 12, the MAHRC organized a full day regional convening of Human Rights Commissions (HRC) and community-based non-profits working on human rights and social justice concerns.
This event, held at the State House, was co-sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur. Both legislators gave inspiring opening remarks. Reviewing legislative history and aspirations, each emphasized their continuing work in promoting human rights. In particular, they voiced strong support for Ballot Question 3, which would maintain the current law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, including theaters and restaurants.
Support for Ballot Question 3
The morning session was on the perspectives and rights of transgender people, with four speakers giving powerful personal statements and strong support for Question 3. The speakers were: Liz DeSelm, the first openly transgender woman on the Melrose School Committee; Alexandra Chandler, the first transgender person in military naval intelligence to transition while on the job, and a former Mass-3 Congressional Candidate; Mimi Lemay, the mother of an elementary-school-aged transgender boy; and Valerie Frias, the Executive Director of PFLAG who is working with Freedom For All Massachusetts.
Roundtable discussions for Sharing Ideas and Strategies
The afternoon roundtable discussions focused on: strategies for educating and advocating for human rights issues; responding to an incident; building positive relationships with local law enforcement; and creating an HRC or human rights nonprofit. Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan shared his expertise and passion for these issues, asserting strongly that law enforcement agencies need to go beyond writing policies to infusing values throughout their departments, to ensure behavior change on the job. ACLU attorney Laura Rotolo discussed issues to be considered in creating communities that are safe for immigrants throughout the Commonwealth. Participants learned about the Human Rights Academy in Barnstable County where students develop and implement their own projects. The ongoing negative impact of Native American mascots in sports was discussed, including strategies for eliminating their use.
Recommendations for creating either an HRC or a nonprofit included getting local leaders such as the school superintendent, police chief, religious leaders, and key stake holders in a community together to start the process. It was also recommended that a record be kept of every step as one works to achieve an organization.
Panelists also discussed our individual obligation to ensure everyone’s human rights are respected. In order to sustainably promote, defend, and fight for human rights, we need to follow the lead of those whose human rights are being violated. We all should reflect on our own suffering in order to feed our compassion for others. But, for those of us who have privilege in one setting or another, we need to center those of us experiencing exclusion and oppression. Then, we all have to exercise our rights to gather, share our narratives, discuss information and develop strategies to protect and promote human rights.
One goal of the MAHRC is to facilitate networking and collaboration across the Commonwealth. It was exciting to bring people over forty together at this first convening. For example, School Committee members from six different Middlesex County communities appreciated the opportunity to discuss common concerns.
A Successful Event, enhanced by Koshari Mama
The written evaluations confirmed the event was successful. Participants particularly appreciated: hearing personal stories; learning about strategies and activities of other organizations; and having the opportunity to converse and connect. The conversations were particularly enjoyable over the delicious lunch donated and served by Koshari Mama, and the coffee donated by Starbucks in Melrose.