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Posted by: | Posted on: January 11, 2017

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.  

Posted by: | Posted on: June 16, 2016

MTPC/HLA Trans Healthcare Survey

The Mass Trans Political Coalition and Health Law Advocates are working together to determine the needs and shortcomings of health care coverage for trans people in Massachusetts. This information will be kept confidential to our organizations, and will be used to determine advocacy needs in health care systems. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about this survey, please contact MTPC: info@masstpc.org.

Thank you for your participation!

Link to the MTPC/HLA Trans Healthcare Survey here.

Posted by: | Posted on: June 1, 2016

#TransBillMA passed in the House AND Senate!

Below are MTPC’s public remarks on the passing of the Equal Access Bill in the Massachusetts House of Representatives by a wide (veto-proof!) margin on June 1, 2016. The bill has already passed in the Senate. 

My name is Mason Dunn. I am a transgender man, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and co-chair of Freedom Massachusetts.

Today’s victory is a long-awaited and important affirmation from our lawmakers that transgender people are valued and welcome in our Commonwealth. Not only that, but today’s vote is an inspirational way to start June, National LGBTQ Pride Month. Happy Pride!

The protections that have passed today have been pending on Beacon Hill for nearly ten years. During that time, hundreds of transgender people have bravely come forward to tell their stories and personal experiences with discrimination. I am humbled by the time and effort the transgender community and our allies have put in to get us here today. You have shown up, time and time again, to tell your stories and to be an integral part of this process. Lawmakers heard us, and they see transgender people for who we truly are — human beings, worthy of respect and deserving of basic human rights.

We are so grateful to our tireless advocates in the House: Speaker DeLeo; Chairman Fernandes; and Representative Rushing and Representative Provost, the bill’s lead sponsors. They have shown persistent and determined leadership, without which we would not be here today. We are thankful to them for their unwavering commitment to moving this bill forward and working diligently over the past months to be sure legislators did the right thing.

Today is a triumph for Massachusetts’s reputation as a leader on equality and as a beacon of freedom for everyone. We look forward to seeing this bill arrive at Governor Baker’s desk, and we eagerly await his signature. It’s time for equality for everyone in Massachusetts.

Posted by: | Posted on: April 21, 2016

More on the Boston Spirit Action

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.

Posted by: | Posted on: March 9, 2016

TSA Reinforces Discriminatory Body Scanner Policies

The Transportation Security Administration has doubled down on anti-trans discrimination this week, finalizing a rule that codifies their existing policies on body scanners, making it more difficult for trans people to get through security.

Despite years of criticism and challenges from civil rights groups, TSA has decided not to change any aspect of their current system, in which TSA agents select scanners’ anomaly detection parameters with a pink or blue button based on a passenger’s perceived gender. This system puts transgender folks at a higher likelihood of dealing with invasive, humiliating patdowns and searches, since the scanners tend to flag trans people’s anatomy, as well as prosthetics like packers or breast forms. The policy also risks publicly outing transgender passengers by asking them questions about their bodies, which exposes them to further harassment and discrimination.

Adoption of the new rule means that TSA is likely to apply their outdated, discriminatory security measures more rigorously and be even less considerate of the civil rights of transgender passengers. The National Center for Transgender Equality has more information on how to protect yourself:

http://www.transequality.org/know-your-rights/airport-security

If you’ve been harassed or had your rights violated, or have any questions about your legal options, contact GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders at 1-800-455-GLAD for help and information, or email MTPC at info@massptc.org about your situation. You can also file discrimination complaints with TSA and the DHS on their respective websites.

 

Posted by: | Posted on: October 29, 2015

Transgender Anti-Discrimination Hearing Recap

By Oliver, Public Education Intern

On Tuesday, October 6th, the public hearing on An Act Relative to Gender Identity and Nondiscrimination (SB 735 and HB 1577) took place at the State House. The bill would legally protect transgender people from discrimination in public spaces; hotels, restaurants, public transportation, hospitals, etc. These protections already exist in employment, housing, education, and credit and lending, so this bill is the last thing standing between us and full protection under Massachusetts law.

FreedomMassHearing2

 

The hearing had a great turnout thanks to MTPC supporters like you! Green-clad advocates and allies filled the auditorium, and influential figures spoke in favor of the proposed protections, including Attorney General Maura Healey and Congressman Joe Kennedy. Many powerful personal testimonies were given. “Today, I have a thriving daughter,” said Jeanne Talbot, whose teenage daughter, Nicole, is transgender. “But there is still discrimination at every turn…. Our work is not done until every person in Massachusetts is protected.” Fourteen-year-old Brandon Adams shared his harrowing story of receiving death threats after coming out as transgender in public school. He went on to say, “I refuse to live in fear. I have come here today, with my family and friends, to loudly and proudly support this bill.”

FreedomMassHearing3

 

Testimonies like these paint a clear picture of why this bill is so vital to the Massachusetts transgender population. Gaps in the law are not just inconvenient; for people like Nicole and Brandon, lack of protections can be life threatening. No one should have to live with the fear of facing discrimination or harassment every time they take a taxi, eat at a restaurant, or check into a hospital – simply because of who they are. Massachusetts has long had a reputation of inclusion and tolerance; it’s time to update the laws to continue reflecting those values.

FreedomMasshHearing1

 

We can’t do this without your help.

As lawmakers make their decision in the coming weeks, it’s critical to keep up the momentum by continuing to put names and faces to the supporters of this bill. Freedom Massachusetts, the coalition spearheading this campaign, is still collecting personal stories from transgender folks and their allies.

Encourage your friends and family to tell their stories, and submit your own here!
The opposition needs to know that this issue is not just an arbitrary ideological debate; real people’s safety and wellbeing are on the line. To learn more about the bill and other ways you can help, please visit freedommassachusetts.org.

Photos by Hurley Event Photography