Transgender Rights Bill, Frank’s Retirement Dominate Mass. Headlines in 2011
The passage of a landmark civil rights bill and a long-time gay politician’s decision not to seek re-election are among the stories that garnered headlines in Massachusetts in 2011.
Congressman Barney Frank, who has represented the Bay State’s Fourth Congressional District since 1981, announced late last month that he would leave Congress once his term expires next year. He explained he came to his decision after his district was redrawn, which would have made it more difficult to win another term.
Frank, who came out in an interview with the Boston Globe in 1987, founded the National Stonewall Democrats in 1998. He was the chair of the House Financial Services Committee until Republicans gained control of the chamber earlier this year; he remains the ranking Democrat.
In other political news, Holyoke voters elected 23-year-old Alex Morse as their city’s next mayor in November. The 2011 Brown University graduate defeated Mayor Elaine Pluta, 67, by 608 votes to become the city’s youngest chief executive ever. Morse started Holyoke High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance and founded the city’s first LGBT organization, Holyoke For All, which hosts an annual "pride prom" and offers support groups, advocacy training, and scholarship assistance for LGBT youth.
Patrick Signs Transgender Rights Bill
LGBT Bay Staters celebrated Gov. Deval Patrick’s signing of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill last month.
The law forbids discrimination based on gender identity and expression in housing, employment and education. The statute also expands the state’s hate crimes statute to include a ban on violence against trans men and women. The removal of a provision that includes restaurants, parks, polling places, coffee shops, laundry mats and other public accommodations was heavily criticized by many who considered it a key component of the law.
Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, applauded the directive. He stressed, however, that lawmakers’ work isn’t over.
"Unfortunately, there are a number of people who need the protection offered by this executive order but who will not get it because they are not state employees," said Scott, referring to Patrick’s executive order. "Transgender residents of the Commonwealth face pervasive job discrimination and workplace harassment."
A study that the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released earlier this month found that 76 percent of trans respondents from Massachusetts experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job. Twenty percent of respondents said they have lost a job because of their gender identity and expression.
"No one should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance," said Scott, noting Patrick signed an executive order in February that banned discrimination against trans state employees. "All hardworking people in our state, including transgender people, should have the opportunity to make a living and provide for themselves and their families."
When the trans rights bill takes effect in July, Massachusetts will join 15 other states and the District of Columbia that ban anti-trans discrimination.
Lenk Becomes First Gay Judge on Supreme Judicial Court
Another historic milestone came in May when the Governor’s Council confirmed Appeals Court Judge Barbara A. Lenk to the Supreme Judicial Court. Lenk, who is Patrick’s fourth appointment to the seven-member SJC that issued the landmark 2003 ruling that made Massachusetts the first state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. She is the first gay judge to serve on the state’s highest judicial body.
Lenk - who married her partner, Debra Krupp, after the ruling - has 18 years’ experience on the bench. She has a degree from Harvard Law School, and a doctorate in political philosophy from Yale. Patrick nominated her to replace Justice Judith A. Cowin, who recently retired.
"Today is a historic day in Massachusetts," said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini. "We’re thrilled that the Governor’s Council stuck to the facts and focused on the fact that she is an eminently qualified judge and dismissed the antigay rhetoric that characterized the hearing last week."
Washington Proposes Cuts to Local HIV/AIDS Service Providers
While LGBT activists largely applauded the momentous year, HIV/AIDS service providers in the Commonwealth were not quite as cheerful.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Aug. 12 notified HIV/AIDS service providers and other community health organizations of a drastic cut in federal funding. The reduction--$4.3 million--represents approximately 25 percent of the state’s annual HIV/AIDS prevention budget, according to the Boston Globe. And service providers were concerned that free condom distribution programs and needle exchange efforts would have been among the services that they would have to cut.
"We are the sole HIV hotline for the state," said Rebecca Haag, president and chief executive officer of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. "And we actually picked up coverage for Rhode Island when the government chose to not fund its hot line. We can no longer fund two statewide hotlines without any support."
Fenway Health would also suffer a roughly 20 percent cut in funding for HIV/AIDS prevention.
"There is no question in my mind that these cuts will have an effect on our ability to cut infection rates," said Dr. Stephen Boswell, president of Fenway Health.
On a more positive note, the first same-sex marriage of two senior Episcopalian clergy took place at Boston’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in January.
The Right Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, solemnized the marriage of the Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School, and Canon to the Ordinary Mally Lloyd. Nearly 400 people attended the couple’s wedding.
"God always rejoices when two people who love each other make a life-long commitment in marriage to go deeper into the heart of God through each other," said Shaw. "It’s a profound pleasure for me to celebrate with God and my friends, the marriage of Katherine and Mally."
The couple met in June 2008 at the urging of a mutual friend.
"We were both traveling a lot and so we would talk by phone," said Lloyd. "Somehow when you talk a lot by phone, a relationship can go deeper more quickly than when you spend time in person. At least that is what happened to us."