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Activists Lobby For Transgender Rights Bill In Massachusetts

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WAMC
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Gay rights activists Wednesday launched the fifth annual Springfield Pride Week with a call to expand legal protections in Massachusetts for transgender people.

The rainbow unity flag was raised on the Springfield City Hall esplanade and the mayor read a proclamation in front of about 50 people to publicize Pride Week.  It is a volunteer run series of events that include dances, parties, performances, and a church service.

Amaad Rivera, the president and founder of Springfield Pride Week, opened the kickoff event Wednesday by noting it was an historic year with same-sex couples now having the legal right to marry in all 50 states.

"  I want to thank many of the people standing here because we were at the forefront of the movement," said Rivera. " We were promoting LBGT rights before it was popular, before it was easy."

Massachusetts was a leader in the movement to legalize same-sex marriage, but it lags in protecting transgender people from discrimination, according to activists.

A lobby day is scheduled at the Statehouse Thursday in support of a bill that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public places.  Transgender people could use public restrooms of the gender they identify with.  Supporters say the law is needed because transgender people have been asked to leave restaurants and stores.

Danika Ali of Springfield said it has happened to her.

"  We would just like to have public accommodation as a protection for all our transgender citizens," said Ali in an interview.  " Massachusetts is lagging and this is not right."

Massachusetts passed a law four years ago that banned discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, and lending, but protections against discrimination in public places were removed after critics derided it as “the bathroom bill.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he does not believe it is necessary to extend more legal protections to transgender people.   

Deja Greenlaw, who writes for the “Rainbow Times,” said momentum for the measure is building.

" When Caitlyn Jenner came out that just brought trans right to the top. She opened a dialogue. Now we are not just a fringe group, we are people and we want our rights," said Greenlaw.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and his opponent in the Nov. 3rd election Sal Circosta both attended the Pride Week kickoff. 

Sarno said he has a track record of supporting the LGBT community going back to his days on the city council.

" It heartens back to two words, mutual respect.  Mutual respect. We would have a better world if we had that, " said Sarno.

Circosta is openly gay.

" People are concerned about the city of Springfield. I don't think they care about my sexuality. They care about the real issues we are facing particularly crime, education and economic development. But I am sure my openness about my sexuality gives a sense of comfort and understanding on a different level," said Circosta.

  It was the first appearance by Sarno and Circosta at the same public event since the September 8th preliminary election where Sarno topped Circosta, the second place finisher in the six-person field, by a 10-1 vote margin.

Sarno, who is seeking a fourth term as mayor, did not participate in any candidates’ forums leading up to the preliminary, and has been noncommittal about whether he will debate his election opponent.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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