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    Trump’s joke about Pence must spur action at state level, Mass. LGBT activist says

    Vice President Mike Pence.
    Andre Teague/The Bristol Herald-Courier/AP
    Vice President Mike Pence.

    The head of a leading LGBT rights group in Massachusetts said Tuesday that President Trump’s joke that Vice President Pence wants to “hang” gay people reinforces what activists already believed: that states have to pick up the slack to protect minorities during the Trump administration.

    “In many ways, it’s not really surprising,” said Deborah Shields, executive director of MassEquality, in a phone interview.

    She was reacting to a report in the New Yorker magazine that quoted Trump as saying, “He wants to hang them all!” in reference to the socially conservative Pence’s views on gays.

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    Asked if she feared that the anecdote, which other news outlets picked up Monday, may encourage violent attacks on gays and lesbians, Shields said, “Absolutely. I think violence, in general, has become normalized. The rhetoric of this administration has given license for people to hate and be violent. We’ve seen that over and over.”

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    Shields, pointing to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recent policy decisions that scaled back legal protections for transgender people, said activists must focus their efforts on persuading state lawmakers to pass bills to fill the void.

    The controversy stemming from the New Yorker report “underscores the fact that state legislation is even more important, because we cannot expect the federal administration to protect” minorities, including people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, and women, she said.

    The transgender rights issue has also landed on the radar of US Representative Seth Moulton, a rising Salem Democrat viewed as a possible presidential candidate in 2020.

    Moulton, reacting to a report that Sessions was sending a federal prosecutor to Iowa to try an alleged killer of a transgender teen, voiced support for that move in an otherwise critical tweet on Tuesday morning.

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    “But why did you remove protections for trans people in the workplace, Mr AttyGen?” Moulton wrote. He continued by asking Sessions whether he thought that“not getting murdered” was the only right that transgender people deserve.


    Material from the New York Times was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.