We are profoundly disturbed by the events surrounding the ‘Straight Pride’ parade in Boston on August 31, including the cascading missteps surrounding the counter-protest and its aftermath, at the hands of the police and the justice system. They are reminders of how far we have to go before our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender communities can trust that our voices will be heard, and our identities respected, in the public square, without fear of mistreatment or discrimination.
The individuals who gathered to protest the ‘Straight Pride’ parade did so to voice disagreement with the event’s extremist messages, including the message that LGBTQ people are not “normal.” Such dehumanizing statements, made by parade organizers who have ties to White Supremacist and other alt right ideologies, threaten not only the dignity but also the safety of LGB and especially transgender lives.
Our aspirations for equal justice in our nation require protection of avenues of dissent. And yet, the heavy-handed police tactics at the rally, resulting in the arrests of protesters, threatens to squelch the voices of marginalized people, particularly the transgender community who already experience harassment and discrimination at the hands of the police.
What happened subsequently in the courtroom did little to restore our community’s trust in the justice system. While prosecutors, under the leadership of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins, tried to do the right thing by declining to prosecute the minor charges levied against the protesters, Suffolk Municipal Court Judge Sinnott refused to defer to prosecutorial discretion and instead insisted that many of these charges go forward. Judicial resources are not well spent on prosecuting people who showed up at a rally to engage civic values of discourse.
To make matters worse, Judge Sinnott later mistreated one defendant, Kai De Jesus, a transgender woman of color, with humiliating and dehumanizing statements about her gender and name, including equating her name with a criminal alias. Whether intentional or not, comments like those made by Judge Sinnott send the message to transgender people that they may not receive a fair hearing in court – the opposite of the expectation we should be ensuring all residents of the Commonwealth can confidently hold with regards to our justice system.
But we have the power to change that. In 2018 the trial court created a mandated training, required of every trial court employee, including judges, setting out expectations for fair, respectful and inclusive treatment of transgender people in our courts. Last week demonstrated how critical such trainings are to continue on an ongoing basis for all court staff, including the judges who are entrusted with delivering unbiased justice.
Last year the Massachusetts community voted overwhelmingly to uphold protections for transgender individuals in public spaces, including on the streets and in the courts. It is up to all of us to live up to our collective aspirations of upholding fairness, dignity, and respect for LGB and transgender people, and for all people in the Commonwealth.
Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation. GLAD participated in the development of the 2018 trial court training on inclusive and respectful treatment of transgender people in the court system.
The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) is dedicated to ending oppression and discrimination on the basis on gender identity and gender expression. Rooted in social justice, we educate the public; advocate with state, local and federal government; engage in activism; and encourage the empowerment of community members through collective action. MTPC offers regular trainings throughout the state on trans and non-binary identities and on developing accessibility and inclusion for trans and non-binary communities.