Taking a stand for ENDA in Boston

May 24, 2010

BOSTON--Approximately 50 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) activists and allies gathered outside of the Boston Federal Building on May 21 to rally against "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) and for a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The rally was part of a national week of action leading up to Harvey Milk Day on May 22. The week of action was called by the national grassroots network Equality Across America (EAA) to celebrate Harvey Milk's legacy and continue the demand for full federal equality for LGBTQ people.

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 89 percent of Americans oppose workplace discrimination, yet Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and others uphold legal discrimination against LGBTQ people in workplaces across the country, including in the largest employer in the United States--the military.

Currently, it is legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation in 30 states, and based on gender identity in 38 states. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 97 percent of transgender people experience harassment or discrimination in the workplace because of their gender identity.

Activists, noting that Sen. Brown has been silent on DADT and ENDA since his February special election to the Senate, called on Brown to vocally support a repeal of DADT and to advocate for a trans-inclusive ENDA. The crowd--comprised predominantly of activists under the age of thirty--chanted "L-G-B-T, we demand equality!" and "Hey Brown, take a stand, equality is our demand!"

While protesters kept the pressure on Brown from outside, activist Sue Hyde and two others met with Lydia Goldblatt, director of constituent services for Brown's office. In the 30-minute meeting, Hyde delivered information on DADT and ENDA as well as a pledge drafted by rally participants that asked Brown to advocate a repeal of DADT and a trans-inclusive ENDA this year.

When Goldblatt declined to disclose Brown's position on the legislation, about 25 activists prepared to sit-in in the office until further action was taken. Activists were told that only two or three people would be permitted to enter the office that afternoon. The group demanded that Goldblatt address the crowd outside.

When Goldblatt emerged, flanked by a swarm of police officers, the crowd of LGBT youth and allies read the pledge aloud and asked her to promise to submit the pledge to Brown, with whom she regularly communicates. One by one, activists shared stories of how they and their loved ones have been personally affected by the oppression upheld by legislation such as DADT, and by the lack of employment protection for LGBT people.

Queer youth and straight allies noted that Goldblatt's response was cold and dismissive. After 10 minutes, Goldblatt announced that she did not have any more time to hear the concerns of the crowd, and promptly returned inside the building.

Charlotte Heltai, a Brookline-based activist with Join the Impact Massachusetts and one of the organizers of the rally, said she felt that the way Goldblatt acted was "insulting" and "representative of our current government's disrespect for the constituents that make up this supposed democracy."

As Goldblatt retreated into the Federal building, the crowd chanted, "Show me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like!" while pointing to the crowd of activists--and then "Show me what hypocrisy looks like? That is what hypocrisy looks like!" while pointing to Goldblatt.

The time has come for real civil rights protections for all LGBT people. The passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would provide those protections in employment.

Activists planned to reconvene on May 22--Harvey Milk Day--for a citywide rally for trans rights, and to continue the struggle for full federal equality for all LGBTQ people in Massachusetts and around the country as a whole.

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