Tonight I met Governor Charlie Baker of my home state, Massachusetts at a fundraiser. My very limited goal was to get across to the Governor that the transgender public accommodations bill currently sitting in the Joint Judiciary Committee in the Legislature is important to families like ours in Massachusetts that are raising transgender children. By that measure, I believe I succeeded.
A little background. Massachusetts has had a Transgender Rights bill in force since 2012. Transgender people have equal rights in housing, employment, education, medicine, and credit. This bill was hard-fought in the Legislature and took 5 years of painstaking effort to get it to a vote on the floor. It passed with an important provision stripped out: equal rights for transgender people in public accommodations, e.g., stores, restaurants, and the like. This means that a person cannot be fired from a job in a store due to being transgender, but that person can be denied service in that store solely because that person is transgender.
A little more background. Despite my political leanings, I am an enthusiastic supporter of Governor Baker. He is a leader who is unafraid to buck his party on certain principles. Some of those principles involve his support of the LGBT community. Like many allies, he has a family connection through his gay brother.
However, Governor Baker, despite supporting the current Transgender Rights law, does not currently support the transgender public accommodations bill in its current form. When I learned about the fundraiser, I decided to take the opportunity to tell the Governor why the bill is so important to families like ours.
So today, I did just that. I was given the opportunity to meet the Governor and tell him a little about my family and why the bill is so important to us and other families like ours. The Governor is obviously a very busy man so I had to get to the point quickly and keep him engaged.
I am happy to say that I did just that. The Governor made this easy because he is warm and approachable. I told him that, despite being quite liberal, I am a vocal and enthusiastic supporter – this is 100% true. I told him that I admire his stance on social issues, and that that has become very important to my family over the past year. I told him about Eli, about how wonderful his life in school is, and how fantastic it is to live in MA. I then explained that the transgender gap is a real problem for families like ours.
Gov. Baker explained that, while he fully supports the current laws, and that the laws in MA are as wide-ranging and forceful as anywhere in the country, he is nervous about a “one-size-fits-all” law. He explained that there are towns in MA like mine that are quite ready for such laws, but there are others that are not. He fears lawsuits from towns not ready to adopt a public accommodations bill.
I of course disagree, but then again, I am not privy to what Gov. Baker sees. However, I do see 17 other states that have a transgender public accommodations law in force without incident. I mentioned this to the Governor. I got the impression that he has higher expectations of such a law than in other states – just because a state has protections, they may not have force behind them.
Of course, I did not expect to change Gov. Baker’s mind with a four-minute conversation. The victory lay in having the conversation with both of us listening to each other. I have a better understanding of Gov. Baker’s reluctance to endorse the current bill. And I think I got across that this bill is important to families with transgender kids.
This is not the end, but the beginning. The current law took five years of hard work from dedicated activists and lawmakers. There are loads of people right now, e.g., MassTPC, GLAD, and many others working to educate lawmakers and move the legislative process along. I am confident that with that hard work as well as engagement with lawmakers, the people who need this law to pass can make it happen.