An open letter to Gov. Charlie Baker on transgender rights
Dear Governor Baker,
I recently had the opportunity to meet you. I shook your hand and looked you in the eyes as I told you about my son Jacob, who is transgender. I used our brief encounter to tell you why I felt the Transgender Anti-Discrimination Act is so important to his future.
You seemed a little hesitant. Maybe it was the late hour, or the fact that you are, no doubt, bombarded on this issue from all sides. It’s one that has raised passionate protagonists, none more so than the parents of transgender children, and detractors, mainly self-titled “family values” lobby groups such as the Massachusetts Family Institute. Despite your brief hesitance, you listened politely and told me that you are “considering” this legislation.
As a parent, I think you understood my desire for Jacob to grow up in a community that respects his human dignity. It is difficult for me to accept that my son lacks the explicit nondiscrimination protections that virtually every other Massachusetts resident enjoys. As the law stands, Jacob can be subject to verbal abuse, denied service, and otherwise mistreated at restaurants, stores, and doctors’ offices, among other public accommodations. Before I had a transgender child, I never imagined not feeling safe while enjoying a dinner out with friends.
As you are undoubtedly aware, the Transgender Anti-Discrimination Act enjoys bipartisan support in the Massachusetts legislature. More than a dozen mayors from across our state support the bill. The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and Massachusetts Major City Chiefs say we need this bill to bolster public safety. Leading businesses like Harvard Pilgrim, Google and Eastern Bank also support the bill, as do our five major sports teams.
All that’s needed now is your leadership on this issue, Governor.
When we spoke, I ended our conversation a little assumptively. I said, “I know you are a good man, and I believe you will do the right thing.” I still do. However, the next day you reiterated your position on the bill, speaking as though discrimination against transgender people in Massachusetts is occasional and something the courts can handle on a case-by-case basis. You also restated your “hands off” approach to this bill, saying you would need to see all the “details” worked out before supporting its anti-discrimination protections. As you put it: “The devil’s in the details with respect to this sort of thing.”
As a citizen of conscience and concerned mother, I am frustrated and disappointed by the implication of these words. They point toward an unfounded and, at times, deliberately malicious canard: that allowing transgender women to use the restrooms of their affirmed gender would somehow endanger cisgender women. I don’t think you believe that a transgender woman, merely by virtue of her identity, poses a threat to anyone in a bathroom. But it appears to me that by not taking a stance on this matter you are missing the opportunity to educate your constituency. Even if it is unintentional, your silence sends a deafening message (especially when coupled with rumors of a possible veto, initiated by statements you made in 2010) that granting civil rights to transgender people is not an obvious decision.
Governor, you are in a position to utilize this teachable moment. Not everyone understands what being transgender is; some, from a sense of personal discomfort or religious ideology, do not “approve” of being transgender. If transphobia was not widespread, we wouldn’t need anti-discrimination laws.
Here are some of the things you could be saying:
A transgender person is one whose gender identity has developed, usually from birth, at odds with their anatomical sex. Transitioning therefore, rather than a “lifestyle choice,” is for most a critical step toward living a physically and emotionally healthy life.
Forcing transgender people to use the wrong bathroom is a violation of their dignity and safety.
Anti-discrimination laws have already been passed in 18 other states and 200 municipalities, including Boston, with no adverse consequences to public safety. The details, it would appear, have already been worked out.
More than 64% of our transgender citizens have experienced harassment in Massachusetts public spaces. This figure should be as unacceptable to you as it is to me. It means my son is not safe here. Furthermore, the courts are no recourse for cases of discrimination like these. Attorney General Maura Healey summed it up unequivocally: “Never in our state’s history has a court extended protections under public accommodations law to a transgender person.”
Governor Baker, will you stand up for transgender citizens of Massachusetts like my son Jacob?
In a country that has seen over 22 murders of transgender people in hate crimes over the past year, we cannot afford to delay the message that transgender citizens are equal in the eyes of the law. In the past, as a state, we have led in equality and civil rights. Today we are faltering.
Governor, this is your leadership moment. You can choose to walk at the forefront of change, to follow it, or God forbid, to hold it back. You can speak truth: that granting civil rights does not compromise public safety, or you can be silent, consenting to the message that transgender people are not welcome here. I ask that you rise to this occasion, fulfill the promise upon which this state was founded, and “furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquility their natural rights, and the blessings of life.” Jacob, and I, and thousands more, are waiting for you.
Mimi Lemay, a Massachusetts resident, is the parent of a transgender son, Jacob.