Friday, July 10, 2009

The Massachusetts Model

"In this month of July, as we have just celebrated the Fourth of July and our Independence Day and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we ... are reminded that the phrase, “All Men are Created Equal,” at the time really referred to only certain men, and at the time, only certain men who owned property. Much has clearly changed in this country since 1776. As our country grew, our population grew, and our Bill of Rights and the interpretation of them included a rational and evolving sense of what liberty and justice and equality for all meant." — Mass. Atty. Gen, Martha Coakley in July 8, 2009 press conference.

The year was 1989. Massachusetts passed a state law on non discrimination covering sexual orientation, giving gay and lesbian state residents protections in the workplace against unfair treatment, hiring or firing practices. Being one of the early states to enact it statewide, they were among the vanguard of the progressives.

Since that day twenty years earlier, more legislation has since been enacted covering the state's gay and lesbian residents: Adoption (1993), Hate Crimes (2002), School Bullying (2002), Marriage for in-state couples (2004) and for out-of-state couples (2008). They've also had not one, but two elected officials who were gay – Gerry Studds (1972-1997) and Barney Frank (1981-current). So-called the "most liberal state in the Union", Massachusetts had done well by its gay and lesbian residents.

Taking this into consideration, let's also take a look at the progress of Trans rights in this "most liberal state." By default, Massachusetts' Trans residents have the right to marry per the 2004 edict. Additionally by default, other non-Mass. Trans citizens may now marry there per the 2008 law. In 2009, Trans people saw the first trans-specific law passed: the right to have the new gender marker listed on their drivers license.

And that's about it currently. There's a current non discrimination bill to cover trans folks some two decades later which will go to hearings soon. Of course the same bill also went to hearings in 2007. Hopefully it passes now, but it's still a coin flip.

Twenty years after their initial rights victory, five years after winning the first-in-the-country same-sex marriage rights, and even a year after winning those rights in Mass. for same-sex couples from other states, the Trans rights push is in its early toddling steps. This in the "most liberal state" in the Union. It's a point that even the Big Gay Man on the Hill, Barney Frank, has used in his own defense to deflect crticism when he himself got cold feet on Trans inclusion in non discrimination bills.

Earlier this year MassEquality, the state's prominent LGBT advocate, made tacit promises of finally devoting attention to Trans rights in the state with its Trans rights org counterparts, Mass. Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC). Not long after, they plastered a photo of one of the Trans community's prominent Trans men, giving instructions for folks to contact them on info for Trans equality!

Shortly and subtly thereafter, they then start edging away from working on Trans issues in the state and focused more prominence on helping their neighboring states' marriage equality rights fights! They apparently discovered what Trans organizations have known for many years: big gay and lesbian money pours in on gay and lesbian issues, and magically evaporates when it's Trans issues. There's nothing sexy about Trans issues to gay and lesbian America, no pressing humanitarian (read: big media face time) need for involvement, nothing much to be gained for them personally. Why engage? Maybe another pressing G&L need may arise in the future? Perhaps divorce rights will be the next big ticket item on the agenda?

And if not, hey! There's always plenty of vacation spots to visit....

"I started looking at small companies that were running a sort of virtual reality cottage industry .... that's your dream of what it's going to be." — musician, Thomas Dolby

Of course, once all the rights for sexual orientation on their potential wish list are attained and there's nothing else left, why not give new up-and-coming gay and lesbian leaders a shot by ... coming back and getting those hapless trannies their rights! You continue keeping the org in place and keep the name recognition going! There's certainly no real urgency from a sexual orientation standpoint. They can give more young gays and lesbians an opportunity to develop leadership skills. (Something Trans people don't really need – after all, what are they going to do with them?) It spotlights again the talents and abilities of the gay and lesbian young leaders (something Trans folk have never really had, and frankly in their estimation don't need.)

It also keeps the reins firmly in gay and lesbian hands. You don't want to give trannies the keys to the bank 'cause Lord only knows how they could screw that up if given chance!

And if by chance they manage to win rights for their hapless gender-confused charges, all the better! It does so at low cost, gives these individuals a badge of honor and some pride in accomplishment, keeps the Trans community beholden to the gay and lesbian leaders and helps assuage some of that old "incrementalist" gay guilt and may help bury the legacy (which really needs sanitizing in order to look attractive in the historical annals).

To paraphrase the old adage, why teach a man to fish or give him access to fishing when you can simply just give him a fiah that you catch? Then he gets fed only at your convenience, and best of all helps keep the cottage industry under control! There's nothing like a captive audience to drum up business! If they must bring into their fold a Trans person, make sure they are agreeable and will help aggressively market the paradigm of LG first, then B, then T. A good Trans marketer in LGBT orgs can be an excellent public relations tool and adds the dual benefit of providing "cover" with the Trans and curious straight community folks.

And if they're crafty enough, they can stretch this out for quite some time and make a nice career of it! It's not like Trans people aren't familiar with the concept of gatekeepers.

After all, only a fool would give away the business secrets that make their business a success. When did Coca-Cola or Col. Sanders ever give away their secret recipes? Answer: never! It's why they're a success story for the ages!

Of course once all is acheived in Massachusetts, as we've seen, why not export this model to the other states? After all: "there's more education needed on Transgender issues ... they don't know who you are." And with any luck by these incisively-minded G&L leaders, they likely never will in our lifetimes!

As the Big Gay Man on the Hill loves to point out on progressive issues: as goes Massachusetts, thus follows the rest of the nation.

If you're Trans, you better pray, meditate like hell or scream bloody murder that it doesn't!

"The notion that you don't protect most people if you don't protect them all – that's never worked." — Rep. Barney Frank on ENDA in 2007


Anonymous said...

"By default, Massachusetts' Trans residents have the right to marry per the 2004 edict. Additionally by default, other non-Mass. Trans citizens may now marry there per the 2008. In 2009, Trans people saw the first trans-specific law passed: the right to have the new gender marker listed on their drivers license."

OK Ness - I have to disagree with you here. Post-transition trans people impliitly have the right to marry as membes of their post-transition sex per (1) a 1975 opinion from Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti which said that transsexuals had the right to change the sex designation on their birth cetificates even in the absence of a trans-specific statute; and (2) a 1981 statute which codified that opinion.

So, the DL gender-marker thing was not the frst trans-specifc law in Massachusetts.

However, it does beg a very serious question: How did trans people go from being acceptable in Massachusetts in 1975/1981 - a period when the type of gay(-only) law that did pass in 1989 was routinely laughed out of the legislature and gay marriage was on no one's agenda - to being unspeakable in 1989?

I've always thought it was interesting that the birth certificate opinion did not get codified by the state legislture until 1981, which was the year after Barney Frank had left the legislature to go to Congress. But, even if that's more than a coincidence, that only explains why it took until 1981 to get that specific thing done. It doesn't explain why Massachuestts and, in general, the rest of the so-called 'ultra liberal' northeast has been - and in MA, CT, NH and NY continues to be - more hostile to trans-inclusion in civil rights laws than the rest of the country.




Vanessa E. Foster said...

Indeed I overlooked the birth certificate law, mea culpa. As you mentioned, the hostility (whether actual or just the unmistakable outward appearance of it) is a very salient question that's likely never to be answered by the parties involved. I'm sure it'll be a trans person sent to represent their issue, beating us back from questioning by saying all we've seen on the surface all these years has been an illusion, and that they're really our staunch allies, none more trustworthy, doing the "amazing work" for us.

Thank you for the lessons, Harriet Beecher Stowe....