Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III testified before a Massachusetts State Legislature committee at a Tuesday hearing in support of two bills that would make gender identity a protected class in the Commonwealth.
The hearing, held by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary at the State House, went over the bills, which would also serve to protect transgender individuals from being discriminated against in public areas such as parks, libraries and government buildings.
“I’ll be perfectly clear, I know there’s a level of discomfort out there. But we’ve made these changes before,” Healey said. “After segregation people were uncomfortable sharing pools and water fountains. Discomfort is not a reason to perpetuate discrimination. Not in our state.”
Kennedy said supporting transgender rights is a moral issue.
“We can do everything in our power to ensure [people we love] live in a world that accepts and embraces whatever bright, strong, unique individuals they turn out to be,” Kennedy said. “ … That’s the world I want for my daughter. A country that promises the same decency and tolerance the rest of us may take for granted.”
Kennedy noted that 17 states fully protect transgender individuals and the fact that Massachusetts “is missing from that list does not go unnoticed.”
In testimony, Jonathan Alexandre, legal counsel from the Massachusetts Family Institute, said the struggles transgender people face are not the same that African Americans have faced historically.
“No other group of individuals, including those who desire to express themselves as a different sex than how they were born, has ever been enslaved,” Alexandre said. “… No woman that believes she is actually a man has ever been forced to sit in the back of a bus in a transgender section.”
Regardless, Alexandre said, there is a “rational basis” to require people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their biological sex.
Several other organizations spoke out about the transgender bill and its possible impact.
Brian Camenker, executive director of MassResistance, a pro-family activist organization, said the bill is too aggressive to actually work.
“This bill is absolutely Orwellian — it forces the public to believe a lie,” Camenker wrote in an email. “No person can change his or her sex. Taking hormones and mutilating one’s bodies only makes it worse. These people need real help, not pandering to their delusions.”
Boston Pride president Sylvain Bruni said this legislation would help raise awareness about the transgender community.
“I’m very, very much hopeful that these bills are going to pass and won’t be vetoed because they will have such a profound impact on the lives of so many people,” Bruni said. “It won’t be ignored by the community. People will still be fighting for full equality … This is just one win in a series of battles that are coming up, and there are still a huge series of challenges that need to be overcome.”
Several residents were pleased to hear efforts are being made to help the transgender community.
Dana Clark, 22, of Fenway, said Massachusetts should strive for equality in light of its reputation for activism.
“Massachusetts is a place that’s notorious for activism, so it’s important that we step up to achieve equality for all,” she said.
Elaine Chung, 24, of Allston, said that while the legislation would be a great advancement, it might be difficult to enforce around Massachusetts.
“It’s great in terms of changing the general attitude towards the transgender population,” Chung said. “I question how this bill would be enforced in public.”
Kendra Santana, 27, of Dorchester, said these laws would be steps toward making transgender people feel accepted.
“Whatever makes [transgender people] feel recognized as people, citizens, and equal to everyone is super important,” she said. “I identify with some minority classes, so it’s great because this means there are small strides being made in the fight for social equality for all.”