With one month until the midterm elections, and with Massachusetts voters expected to weigh in on public accommodations for the transgender community, a civil rights issue, the Network and League of Women Voters Winchester teamed up to present an educational panel discussion entitled “Living a Civil Rights Issue: Supporting Justice for the Transgender Community” on October 4, 2018 in the large meeting room of the library. Members of the community, including State Representative Michael Day, State Senator Jason Lewis, and Select Board Chair Mike Bettencourt, listened intently as the three panelists told their stories, with moderation by Terry Marotta, Network Steering Committee member.
Mimi Lemay talked about her experience as mother to a young transgender son who, though assigned an identity of girl at birth, announced at age two, “I am a boy.” Her son’s experience has led Mimi and her family to become advocates for transgender equality. She is grateful that Jacob can now live his life authentically and was hopeful when legislation passed allowing for public accommodation, though with ballot question 3 looming, she is anxious about Jacob’s future and hopes that he will never experience discrimination, which to date he has avoided because he is so young. She is mindful and concerned about the high frequency of suicide attempts for transgender youth, and is frustrated that people get “stuck” on the idea of bathroom accommodations rather than consider it as simply public accommodations and public space.
Brooke Stott, a member of the Coalition Team with Freedom For All Massachusetts and a Transgender Health Navigator for Fenway Health, spoke about her experience living in San Francisco and Massachusetts, two places regarded as progressive, and both places where she has experienced discrimination. She reiterated Mimi’s point that ballot question 3 is not a bathroom bill as portrayed, but refers to public spaces such as restaurants, sport arenas, and parks. The law is a bipartisan human rights issue of basic dignity, and allows for legal support for trans people when discrimination does occur, which it will even with a law in place. She spoke about the history of the transgender legislation in Massachusetts, explaining how it was approved in 2016 before a quiet campaign to gather signatures for this ballot initiative occurred. Brooke explained the Freedom For All Massachusetts campaign to wipe out erroneous myths, noting that many people have no exposure to and know little about the transgender community. The campaign requires a culture change, including de-programming people who have been in a default mode mindset.
Clayton Lightfoot spoke about how they had always heard that Massachusetts was a progressive state, but they definitely do not feel safe right now. Clayton chooses to use they/them/their pronouns because they identify as non-binary (meaning neither male nor female). Clayton reiterated Brooke’s point that legislation is not a bulwark, but it does provide a recourse and protects discourse. They feel that if ballot question 3 fails, it sends a clear message that Massachusetts has not stood with the transgender community and that it endorses transphobic attitudes. They discussed the role of allies, which includes introducing oneself with pronouns, everyone leveraging their own power, and making spaces safe and inclusive for everyone. Clayton spoke of a new employee, only one week into a new job and thus vulnerable, being willing to write a letter to Human Resources officer about training practices, such as using one’s identity pronouns, that should be in place; Clayton had previously advocated for such practices but to no avail.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, State Representative Michael Day enforced the notion that public accommodations for the transgender community is a civil rights issue, and that if the ballot question fails it will be a black mark on Massachusetts. He cautioned about ads placed by the opposition, which falsely accuse transgender people of being sexual predators. The original legislation was signed into law with no drama by a Republican governor and its passage had bi-partisan support. State Senator Jason Lewis elaborated on this point and reminded attendees that many states do not even have gender orientation protections, so Massachusetts could serve as an example, should the legislation pass. The panelists had the opportunity to define the terms “accomplice” and “ally.” An accomplice in activist circles puts themselves on the line and may even be arrested in supporting a cause, while allies play an important role, too, such as pulling the lever to vote yes on 3.
At the end of the evening, attendees were invited to take lawn signs and pledge cards supporting ballot question 3 and to volunteer to help the campaign through housing volunteers or phone banking. Informational handouts were also available.
Read article by Marilyn Manzhos, WickedLocal Winchester published October 6, 2018. The article is also listed below.