This post was written by two MTPC interns who attended last week’s Boston Spirit event and wanted to share their experiences.
On Wednesday, March 13th, Boston Spirit Magazine held its ninth annual LBGT executive networking night. Organizer David Zimmerman, in charge of the event, invited Governor Charlie Baker to be honored for his “support of the LGBT community” as well as to serve as keynote speaker for the event. Although Baker may have supported same-sex marriage, his tacit opposition to the transgender public accommodations bill has alienated many local LGBT people. Activists in the trans community, supported by MTPC, attended the event to protest Spirit’s choice and to hear Baker address their concerns about the bill.
Before Baker began speaking, the general attitude of the crowd was cautiously hopeful – the governor has disappointed us before, but surely while being honored at an LGBT event and with the backlash from North Carolina and Mississippi looming, he would at least give us something. Instead, we got nothing more than the same refusal to commit that Baker has offered us for months.
Baker spent most of his speech, which ran to around eighteen minutes before abruptly cutting off, congratulating himself on his achievements in MBTA reform and opioid abuse legislation. Even though he was addressing a crowd of mostly LGBT people at a networking event specifically focused on LGBT-friendly businesses, Baker largely avoided mentioning any LGBT issues until halfway through his speech. Once finally reaching the topic of same-sex marriage, he promptly mispronounced the acronym “LGBT” several times.
For those of us participating in the action, the two authors of this post included, this lack of substance was incredibly frustrating. A little over halfway through Baker’s speech, a member of the audience called out to the governor, imploring him to “look around” and address “the issue” – that issue being the many audience members silently holding signs which bore slogans like “public spaces = our spaces” and “Trans Rights Now” in support of HB 1577. Baker’s response was a condescending, “We’ll get to that.” He then continued his self-congratulatory lecture on recent governmental achievements.
Finally deigning to talk about the public accommodations bill, Baker announced that he would “talk to all the parties involved” if the bill crossed his desk, continuing to equivocate on the importance of transgender rights. By refusing to give us a direct answer about whether or not he would sign a bill protecting trans people from discrimination, Baker showed us that he values some parts of the LGBT community far more than others.
The next few minutes of the speech emphasized his lack of commitment, so trans activists and community members in the crowd called out to the governor, asking him to “sign the bill” and pointing out that he has ignored attempts by trans community members to communicate their pressing concerns to him in the past. In the face of the community’s understandable frustrations, Baker abruptly ended his speech and walked offstage, declining to speak with audience members afterward as he had originally agreed to do.
David Zimmerman took the stage following the governor’s sudden departure amid protesters’ chants. After several failed attempts to calm the crowd, Zimmerman became visibly angry and said that he hoped the trans activists present would “respect the rest” of the LGBT community for whom the night had been organized.
Most of the news coverage of the event and our protest in the following days was positive. Some, like Shirley Leung’s editorial in the Boston Globe, however, implied that trans activists were taking up too much space at the event and that our expressions of justified anger were unreasonably disruptive and disrespectful. Our presence and interactions with the governor were described as “heckling” and even trans-friendly news outlets inaccurately stated that Baker was “booed off the stage” after easily-offended protesters “lost it.” This kind of language perpetuates the harmful narrative that trans folks are just looking for a fight when we ask that people respect our desire to live without discrimination.
When our elected officials refuse to listen to the people they ostensibly represent, community organizing becomes even more important. Even as Baker refuses to lead, we congratulate the trans community members who planned last Wednesday’s protest action and made their voices heard.