Community Call to Protect Our Youth: The State House Has a Government Obligation to Ban So-Called “Conversion Therapy”

Ryley Copans

They/Them/Theirs

I called a new therapist recently. The law school only gives you so many visits to their counseling center. I look at a “therapist” that showed up on a referral list of people who take Mass Health. He has used the tag “transgender” on his profile. Okay, but I need more information. He does not answer my call. He does call me back maybe thirty minutes later.

For some context: I am non-binary. Transgender is an umbrella term, but I do not know if people who are not transgender will know this. I’m not completely sure what this person’s “transgender” tag means: Does he mean binary trans? He probably does, but I give him the benefit of the doubt. I inquire as to his experience with non-binary identified people and gender neutral they/them/theirs pronouns. He has no idea what I am talking about. He asks why I want to get into therapy. I speak about my general anxiety and my depression, and then I try to explain about my dysphoria.

 

“Have you ever committed any crimes?”

“Exc- what?”

“Have you ever committed any crimes?” He repeats himself in an indecipherable tone.

“W-what are you talking about? I don’t see what this has to do with-”

He proceeds to tell me that this is a part of dysphoria while in the same breath telling me how he does not believe that gender dysphoria is a disorder.

“Well, I have never heard this, and I have read a lot about this,” I explain, “and yeah, I think diagnosis about gender identity disorder is bullshit.”

“Good.”

 

I end this call shocked to my core. This is not conversion therapy. This is nothing close to what some queer and/or transgender and/or gender non-conforming people have gone through; there are no electric shocks and no one has yelled at me about how I am a girl and I need to wear make-up and dresses, “sit like a lady,” and no one has brought up Bible verses like songs that you hate yet cannot stop listening to until you catch yourself singing while working your job at Target that you only took to pay for college. I cannot help but think what he could have said in a meeting or what he may have said to people like me. What does he say to queer people? What would he say if he knew I was queer in sexual orientation in addition to being queer in gender identity, identifying as non-binary/trans, and using gender-neutral pronouns? I cannot help but think about what he actually believes and what he could have done, or worse, may do.

 

In 2015, I was an intern at the Massachusetts State House in Representative Khan’s Office. During my time there, I became involved in the bill to ban so-called “conversion therapy” from being used on minors. So-called “conversion therapy” is a psuedo-science practice that operates under the misguided belief that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed. It is often religiously affiliated, but not always. One of the most common forms of conversion therapy is electroshock therapy, but it may also be “talk therapy,” though it always involves some degree of emotional abuse, if not physical and/or sexual abuse. This “practice” has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association as ineffective and harmful. I personally use the phrase so-called “conversion therapy” in an effort to highlight that it is not condoned and it is not a legitimate “practice.”

While at the State House, this bill was in its second attempt. Representative Khan was the new sponsor, and as an intern, my job was to organize all of the old research from the first attempt, and conduct new research. This year, the bill is now its third attempt, and it is being proposed in both the House and the Senate. We are hoping that with the passing of the Trans Bill, a precedent can be set.

It is not that the bill has been rejected in its first two attempts, but it has never made it through the entire legislative process and has never actually been voted on. This is where the community comes in! Our representatives are our voice in the State House, and when we want and need something, it is their job to work on our behalf and get this done for us. Bureaucracy is definitely messy, and people are of course quite busy, but if we call them or write them, they will listen; remember, this is also their job, which means that listening to you is what keeps them office.

Massachusetts has an outstanding reputation as an exemplary state, for which both other states and the federal government have modeled their policies. So far, only about seven other states and four cities have banned so-called “conversion therapy.” It is our ethical obligation to join them in protecting our youth. We must make this state safe for queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming young people. Calls to suicide hotlines have spiked in recent months, and we cannot ignore the parallel of the suicide rate of people subjected to so-called “conversion therapy.” Massachusetts must show queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming young people that they support them, and as a government, will work to protect them from harmful “practices.” It is my further hope that taking this direct action against so-called conversion will set its own precedent to train mental health, physical health, and health insurance providers in queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming competency that allows members of the community to be served respectfully, effectively, and adequately from an educated and compassionate perspective. As citizens of a state known for standing up, we must ensure that our government continues to do this.

Please follow the link below if you do not know who your representatives and senator are. Write or call them and ask them to co-sign “An act relative to banning abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors.” A model email, and a model phone call statement are provided at the end of this piece for your convenience.  Please pass this on. Please protect our youth.

https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator

Call Script

Contacting your State Representative and Senator is easy and effective, but you need to act quickly – the deadline to cosponsor legislation is fast approaching. Not sure who your elected officials are? Click here to find out, and then use the guide below to make your two calls.

  1.      Call and ask to speak with your Representative/Senator. It is also okay to speak with an aide. Tell them your name and that you live in the district. They may ask for your address.
  2.      Let them know that you are calling to strongly urge them to cosponsor: I am calling to ask you to help protect minors by co-sponsoring An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors. Let them know that it is being filed by Rep. Khan (if the person you are speaking are your Representative) or Sen. Montigny (if the person you are speaking with is your Senator).
  3.      Let them know the bill would protect children and adolescents by prohibiting licensed mental health professionals from engaging in harmful, deceptive, and discredited practices aimed at changing a minor’s gender or sexual identity.
  4.      If you are comfortable, tell them briefly, and in your own words, why this legislation is important to you.
  5.      Ask if they will commit to cosponsoring the bill.
  6.      Thank them for their time.

Thank you for taking the time to make your calls today. Please contact the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition at 617-778-0519 or Mason.Dunn@masstpc.org let us know how it went. The more we know about who has committed to sign on, the better we can target our efforts.  

 

Model Email

Contacting your State Representative and Senator is easy and effective, but you need to act quickly – the deadline to cosponsor legislation is fast approaching. Not sure who your elected officials are? Click here to find out, and then use the guide below to send your two emails.

Dear Representative/Senator [Your Representative/Senator’s name]

I am a constituent of the [ The District you live in- this information will show up when you use the above searches to determine your representative and senator and find their contact information]. I am writing to ask you to help protect minors by co-sponsoring An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors. This bill is being filed by Rep. Khan (if you are emailing your Representative) or Sen. Montigny (if you are emailing your Senator).

This bill would protect children and adolescents by prohibiting licensed mental health professionals from engaging in harmful, deceptive, and discredited practices aimed at changing a minor’s gender or sexual identity.

[If you are comfortable, tell them briefly, and in your own words, why this legislation is important to you].

As your constituent, I would appreciate your support and commitment to cosponsoring this increasingly important bill.

Thank you for your time,

Sincerely,

 

[Your Name]

 

Thank you for taking the time to make your calls today. Please contact the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition at 617-778-0519 or Mason.Dunn@masstpc.org let us know how it went. The more we know about who has committed to sign on, the better we can target our efforts.  

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Onward to 2017…

It’s hard to believe that 2016 is coming to a close. For me, it was a true roller coaster of emotion with incalculable highs, and immeasurable lows.

This is the year we passed the Transgender Public Accommodations Non-Discrimination legislation, representing a body of work that was over 10 years in the making. When MTPC passed the Trans Equal Rights Bill in 2011, we knew that victory was only part of a larger whole, and the work to gain vital protections in Public Accommodations would be the anchor that solidified Trans Equal Rights in Massachusetts. I admit that when 2016 began, I was nervous that it wouldn’t come together. Beacon Hill seemed stalled, terrifying statewide laws were popping up all over the country specifically targeting transgender folx, and even with the incredible momentum that we had built through our intrepid grassroots organizing, it seemed a task insurmountable. Despite these odds, or perhaps because of them, hundreds of you called your legislators, lobbied in the state house, and sent in personal letters. Thanks to your efforts, we made this happen, and in July, we came together in celebration with all our new wonderful allies after Governor Baker quietly signed the Transgender Public Accommodations Non-Discrimination legislation into law.

But of course, there is no resting on our laurels. In November we learned that the opposition was successful in gathering signatures to put our hard won new law up for a repeal vote on the 2018 ballot. This means that civil rights will be up for public debate, and our very humanity will be subject to tedious and inflammatory attack over the course of the next 685 days. It is a process that exhausts me just thinking about it.

Now, as I look ahead to 2017, I won’t lie – the landscape from where I stand looks daunting. As nervous as I was staring down Governor Baker’s reticence, that is a pittance compared to what the entire community is feeling in apprehension of the new federal administration. In the 37 days since the election in November, MTPC has recorded over 100 phone calls and emails asking with uncertainty “What should I do to protect myself.” We have buttressed our ID Project by partnering with a support line and a local law firm to make sure that people could get those legal questions answered in a timely fashion. And we have increased our efforts tenfold to make sure people understand how to change their names and gender markers on all their paperwork. At a recent community support group, I watched as Mason fielded a nonstop barrage of questions from a room of people in pain, and in clear need of emergency support.

We don’t know what the new administration will mean for our work or our rights at the local and national level. Many seem ready to dismiss 2016, but for us in Massachusetts, we must also remember that 2016 was the year we finally passed the Public Accommodations law, defying the national trend. Personally, 2016 was also the year that I married my partner Missy. We celebrated 2016 with a weekend wedding in a wonderfully queer and trans, interracial ceremony with paper mache dragons, origami lotuses and an out loud commitment to each other and to radical social justice.

Amidst all the uncertainty, there is one thing of which I am resolute: MTPC will be here for me, and my community. We will continue to advocate for the needs of our community and defy those who would dare to hold us back. We will continue to empower trans people and educate those who would oppose us. We will continue to draw strength from our diversity and courage from our struggle. We will continue. I hope you’ll join me in making a donation to MTPC for the New Year so we can make sure 2017 will be a year of success for trans rights. With your support we will defend trans rights in Massachusetts. Your donation is tax deductible, and will go directly to supporting our efforts and advocacy.

Lastly, I want to thank you for being a part of the rich tapestry of this community. It is because of you that we are here and that our future is sheltered. I hope you will join me in 2017 with the reassurance that this movement that we all hold so dear, will be here for generations to come.

Photo by Shaina Lu

Photo by Shaina Lu

Peace and Love on the Planet Earth,

Maxwell Ng
Chair, MTPC

Donate to MTPC Today!

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#GivingTuesday 2016: Support the ID Project Collaboration

Today is #GivingTuesday: an opportunity for us to come together and support nonprofit organizations that are near and dear to us. In honor of the day, I hope you’ll consider supporting the ID Project, a collaboration of MTPC, GLAD, and the law firm Ropes and Gray. This project works to provide free legal assistance for trans people who need to change their name and gender marker’s, particularly on federal identity documents, such as passports, Social Security administration, and so much more. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been inundated with calls from trans people, and families, concerned about the process and cost associated with updating identity documents. To meet this need, MTPC’s ID project was revitalized, and with new community partners to provide comprehensive and timely assistance.

As a part of this project, MTPC is raising funds to sustain our work, as well as provide assistance for those who cannot afford the costs of an updated passport, or other identity documents.

So now we turn to you, our community and allies, to help MTPC. We need your help to manage all the incoming calls, requests, and coordination. We need to make funds available for community members unable to afford this vital process. We need you to help us make change today, before it’s too late.

Support the ID Project Today!

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November 9, 2016: Love and Solidarity

Good morning friends, 

I imagine many of you are just starting your day, and feeling a wide range of emotions: from sorrow, to fear, to anger and everything in between. I am likewise feeling an overwhelming sense of fatigue, given the course of events in the last 24 hours. This morning I woke up to a reality I never thought would see the light of day.  
 
I wanted to first communicate my love and compassion in this extremely turbulent time. And to remind you that you are not alone in this moment. I know we are all committed not only to advocacy and the fight that lays ahead, but to the wellness of our communities. If you need to talk or process, please reach out. If you just need a friendly ear or shoulder, we are all here for you. If you need to talk about what’s next – while I admit I don’t have all the answers – I want you to know that I am ready to take this on with you.   We are a strong, resilient, and powerful community – together I know we can make change happen, even when it feels like it’s an impossible feat. 
 
This isn’t a rallying cry – not yet. Before we rally, we heal. So, this is a check in, and a thank you note for all of you who I am lucky enough to stand with everyday. Stay strong, stay inspired, and hold each other, and our communities, close today. 
 
In solidarity,
 
Mason 
 
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In Our Own Words: MTPC’s Remarks at HRC Boston Gala

On October 8, 2016, MTPC was the recipient of the Equality Award at the annual HRC Boston Gala. The following were our remarks, delivered by MTPC chair, Maxwell Ng:

So first of all let me thank you for inviting us here tonight. My name is Maxwell Ng, and I am the Chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. In that role I get to work with Mason Dunn, the executive director, and while we are very similar on paper: we’re both professionals, we’re both transmen, we were both in the Girl Scouts. We are not the same person. I am the angry, radical, person of color, and he is not.

MTPC advocates and educates on behalf of transgender, gender non-conforming and non binary peoples, and I am here because for the past two years, we have led the charge on Beacon Hill to fight for transgender protections in public accommodations. Yes, that includes bathrooms and locker rooms, which our opposition likes to remind us. But it also includes grocery stores, parks, hospitals, the MBTA. It has been 12 years since the Goodridge decision gave us marriage equality in Massachusetts. But it has only been 7 days since I have had the right to freely enter a movie theater, or restaurant knowing that I cannot be refused service because of my gender identity.

Before Stonewall, cops harassed LGBT people by strip searching us under the pretense of making sure we were wearing at least 3 pieces of gender appropriate clothing. These searches were about our gender expression as well as being a sexual minority. It’s been 40 years since those first drag queens threw their heels at the cops, and the revolution has taken us from riots in the streets of New York and San Francisco, to suits and ties on Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court. But today, I still get called “faggot” when I’m walking down the street. I still fear for the safety of myself and my friends when they face down discrimination, harassment, even violence. So many of those evils faced at Stonewall, are still lurking today: racism and homophobia, but also misogyny and sexism. We fight these forces together, as gender warriors. We must never lose sight of that.

Just because we have the laws protecting us doesn’t mean that our oppressors understand us. Over the past two years, I have seen up close and personal what it means to be part of the political system. It is a big clunky system which systemically oppresses marginalized people, even as we advocate for our rights. People of color. LGBT Voices. People who are undocumented and those who are disabled. For these past two years, we have literally pleaded for BASIC public protections. We have provided heartwarming testimony, and mind numbing statistics. And they respond by calling us sexual predators. They say that we put the safety of the majority at risk, when all we want is to protect our dignity.

But thankfully, we are seeing that societal change that all of us crave. One of my Steering Committee members is a straight cis-gender mom of a trans youth. Her daughter came out at the age of 3. GLSEN is forming GSAs in middle schools, and today there are almost 300 High School GSAs in Massachusetts alone. Millennials strongly support trans rights by a rate of 2 to 1. This is the generation of people that grew up with the fruits of the Stonewall Generation. And their ability to adapt or risk obsolescence gives us hope still.

I’m going to get real with all y’all now. And show my soft underbelly for a bit. MTPC has been criticized as being an organization of white people. Sound familiar? I knew this when I stepped into the role of chair, and I will absolutely tell you that I have felt extreme pressure as *the* person of color in leadership to “fix it.” Yes, I have made my own personal goals to recruit more people of color into leadership, but rather than offering tokens, the criticism has also made me look at every single decision that MTPC makes. I have analyzed my organization down to its DNA. I dream about it now. Are we doing anything that further propagates oppression? Is everything we do transparent to our community, and are we substantially accountable to them? Are we using coded language (some people call them dog whistles), or other gatekeeping tools? Are we supporting the stories and messages of the most marginalized in our community, even if that person doesn’t come with a sweet candy wrapper? We must hold ourselves accountable to all the pockets of our community or else, we again risk obsolescence.

I’m sure many of you in the room know that the trans community has very vocally expressed distrust with HRC. It’s a family feud with blood shed on both sides, and frankly, it’s possible that some of those wounds will never fully heal. But we learn from our scars and move forward with partnerships that can accomplish real change. In the past few years, HRC has been generous with their time and resources. Helping the campaign with phone banking and letter writing. And that commitment has sown real progress. I can honestly tell you that we would not have been able to pass the bill without the work of the field organizers that HRC helped employ. So shoutout to Katie Guare and Pi Fong. Their work on this campaign was a major factor in our victory.

It’s really easy to stay siloed in our work and in our identities, but we all know that the opposition does not see us with this nuance. Just like the other HRC says, we are “stronger together” and only with that message in our hearts can we move forward and create that beautiful queer utopia that we all dream about.

Photo credit: Bình Lê of QAPA

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#TransBillMA: VICTORY!

We just had news that Governor Charlie Baker has signed the public accommodations nondiscrimination bill, making it law. Here is the statement from the Freedom Massachusetts Coalition:

BOSTON — Governor Charlie Baker today signed the transgender public accommodations bill (S2407) into law, capping off a more than 10 year fight for explicit protections under Massachusetts law for transgender people in public places, including parks, restaurants, hospitals, and public restrooms.

Kasey Suffredini and Mason Dunn, Co-Chairs of Freedom Massachusetts, the bipartisan campaign that led the efforts to make this legislation the law of the Commonwealth, today released the following statements:

“Let there be no doubt that today history was made in Massachusetts. The enactment of this law comes after ten long years of transgender people summoning the courage to step out the shadows to publicly advocate for their civil rights,” said Kasey Suffredini, Co-Chair of Freedom Massachusetts. “While we did so proudly, it should not be forgotten that many did so at great personal risk of losing a job, a friend, or ties with family. This is a victory for those brave people and indeed a victory for Massachusetts.”

“Our work has helped people understand what it means to be transgender and that basic protections of law should be afforded to all people,” said Mason Dunn, Co-Chair of Freedom Massachusetts. “Today, Massachusetts sends a powerful message to the nation that politics need not play a role in the pursuit of equality for all Americans. We have shown beyond a doubt that LGTBQ rights are human rights and that transgender equality and justice for all is of concern for everyone, no matter political affiliation.”

The legislation passed the house and the senate with an emergency preamble provision that instructs the law to be enacted on October 1, 2016.

 

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