Trans Civil Rights Lobby Day: Roundtable with Michelle, Paula & Rebecca; The Unlikely Activists

An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes” has been re-introduced for the 2009 legislative session in the House by Representative Carl Sciortino and Representative Byron Rushing (HB 1728) and in the Senate by Senator Benjamin Downing (S.1687).

Back on April 7th, 2009 MTPC led a lobby day that had large attendance and many key speakers. To say it was a moving experience is an understatement. While the facts of the story have been covered at Pam’s House Blend, on a post at MTPC, on a post at the Interfaith Coalitions Website, and finally at Boston’s Bay Window article here, what about putting another face to the story? Well, that’s just what Michelle, Paula and Rebecca did, while enjoying salad and calzone together after the lobby day. Let’s listen in to their discussion; the results may enlighten you to a more human side of this story:

– One question we have to ask each other (queue diet cokes being sipped) is, why did we attend the lobby days in the first place?

  • Michelle: While I’m not particularly politically active, I find myself very motivated to do what little bit I can to help fight for trans rights. I’ve been fortunate enough so far that my path has gone pretty smoothly, but I realize that this could turn in an instant, and with our current laws could leave me without much recourse. I have so many wonderful friends in the trans community that I am happy to do this one small thing to help.
  • Paula: I attended Transgender Lobby day for the first time in April because as a transgendered person I am always concerned about my safety when I go out alone as well as for the safety of my friends in the transgender community when we go out in a group.a
  • Rebecca: Like Michelle, I’m not really politically active. I’m a conservative really. But for me, this whole topic hit close to home when I lost a mid-level management position due to discrimination for bring transgender. Suddenly, my eyes were open that even in high tech, transgender people were at risk regardless of if they were doing a great job or not. That really angered me.

– I think we all had different expectations going into this, but, what did you hope to accomplish?

  • Michelle: I wanted to make the issue real for my state representative by spending some time with her in person.
  • Paula: Because of the stigma out there in society we transgendered persons have to be very careful. There are many persons who accept and respect us for who we are but there are others who do not and would think nothing of using violence against us because of simply who we are.  Ask a gay person about hate and violence. They will concur with what I am talking about. Gays and lesbians are now covered under hate crimes legislation. It took a long time for this to happen but society finally realized gays and lesbians are people like you and me and deserve protection under the law like anyone else. We transgendered persons only ask for the same protection everyone should have under the law. Violence against anyone for no reason should not be tolerated.
  • Rebecca: My reps have all signed on, so at one level, I just wanted to thank them. So I made little gift bags filled with chocolates and a cute card that said, “thanks for supporting us”. It’s a small gesture but one that I hope let them know their support meant alot to us.But, my other hope in attending was to have dialogue with my reps and others who may have never met a transperson. To show them we weren’t all that different.

– [between bites of wonderful Ceaser Salad comes another question] Was this your first time at this or had you attended before?

  • Michelle: This was my second time. I participated in the first Mass Transgender Lobby Day in 2007.
  • Paula: This was my maiden voyage in this.
  • Rebecca: This was my second time as well. I attended in 2007 too. I think at that point in my life I was still trying to figure out how to latch my bra correctly but I knew this was important so I went.

– So, what were your first impressions?

  • Michelle: I’m just perpetually impressed by Gunner’s leadership, and what he is able to accomplish. I found the first lobby day to be an incredible event, but this one topped it in every way. It was great to be sitting right in the center of the State House, with so many inspiring speakers addressing the challenges that we all face.I forget his name – the African American co-sponsor of the legislation. He blew me away. First, he melted my heart with his warm smile and warm welcome to the crowd. Then he got me riled up as he drew comparisons between our current struggle for protection of our rights with that of African Americans in the 60s.
  • Paula: [quietly munching on her calzone, deep in thought]
  • Rebecca: I was completely surprised and delighted at the support we received. Particularly from the faith community. What a great group of preachers; unafraid of being men and women of faith, and unashamed to stand up to say that discrimination of transgender people is wrong. That really had a big impact on me.

– What were the results of some of your conversations with our representatives and senators?

  • Michelle: I was thrilled with how our conversation went with Representative Polito. She seemed to show sincere interest in starting to understand who we are and the challenges we face. She mentioned that we were the first trans people she had ever (knowingly) met. This is why I pushed so hard to get face-to-face communication with her – I figured that without knowing the human side of the transgendered rights issues, it would be just too easy for her to dismiss it as some left-wing issue. It will be a long effort to get support from reps such as her, but it seems totally worth our time to at least help her understand our interests. Probably the best part of our chat was being joined by Becki and Paula, who are both Republican (as is Rep. Polito). They were able to help make a connection that I could never make with her, since my political views are so different from hers.I was disappointed that I was the only constituent who visited my rep on the lobby day. While she listened openly, I realized that as far as she is concerned right now, this is an issue that only effects one member of her constituency. I really hope that we can get more residents of her district to reach out to her.
  • Paula: My first and only encounter with a representative was with one who was a Republican. I don’t remember her name [ed: Representative Polito] but my friends Michelle, Becki and I had a lengthy conversation with her. She listened to us intently. I think for this representative it was her first look into the life of a transgendered person. I watched the expressions on her face closely.  When Becki and I told her we were married and had children and were Evangelical Christians there was a look of surprise on her face.  Michelle told this representative of her life as a transgendered person being married with a young child and a professional business person in the community.  I don’t think this representative ever met a transgendered person before our visit or at least one she was aware of.  I could see her eyes open wide because now maybe for the first time in her life she got to see what transgender is.  She saw the faces of three real people who live, work, pray and love just like everyone else.I don’t know how she will vote on the Hate Crimes Bill but I bet the next time she is out in public she will see people in a new light.
  • Rebecca: One result that almost moved me to tears was the response from Senator Karen Spilka’s staff. When they heard my story about issues I had faced their immediate response was, “call us next time, we will help you”.   That was so empowering.The other result was the conversation with Representative Polito that Michelle, Paula and I had. I loved the look on her face when she said, “Well, I don’t really know much about your world, I’m just working here at the state, taking care of the kids and so on”. When we told her about ourselves she was truly surprised. I’m not sure what she thought of us before, but afterwards, I can say we gave her a new perspective!

As we finished up our chat, slipped our dirty dishes into the garbage and got ready to head home, Paula had one last thing to say to finish up our roundtable discussion, Paula capped our discussion by saying, “Even though we are transgendered we are people too!  That is all we ask is to be treated like people and be protected under the law as all citizens are entitled to”.

Amen sister!

ed. – Michelle, Paula and Rebecca will be talking about their experience with the lobby days in a workshop/panel during First Event 2010 entitled, “The Unlikely Activist” on Friday, January 15th at 11AM.  The moderator will be Gunner Scott.

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