Our Opinion: Battle continues for transgender rights

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A significant victory in the battle to assure transgender rights was won last November when Massachusetts residents soundly defeated a fear-based attempt to overturn the 2016 state law protecting transgender people from discrimination. But the campaign to assure those rights, particularly among the young, continues.

A report released at the State House last Thursday by the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth showed that the societal challenges confronting transgender young people have continued largely unabated since the commission began its work in 2012. LGBTQ students remain more likely than their peers to be bullied at school or online, skipped school because they did not feel safe, been homeless or experienced sexual contact against their will. LGBTQ students are three times more likely than other students to have considered suicide and about 16 percent have made a suicide attempt in the past year. With more than 15 percent of Massachusetts high school students identifying as gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, the commission, according to its chairperson, Sasha Goodfriend, is "no longer serving a niche group, but rather a growing bloc of youth that are increasingly diverse."

These statistics, along with the referendum results from last November, suggest that while there has been a profound cultural shift on transgender issues it has not translated into better life experiences for transgender youth. The campaign to overturn the transgender rights law was based on the ugly assertion that the law would allow men claiming to be transgender to invade the sanctity of women's public restrooms — even though not one example of such an incident had been documented in the two years since the bill was signed into law. Massachusetts voters swept this hate campaign into the dustbin of history and set a good example for other states that may be confronted by similar campaigns. But the fight continues on other fronts.

The commission recommended the passage of a ban on so-called "conversion therapy," a barbaric practice to supposedly turn gay or transgender young people straight that has no scientific validity. A conversion ban has overwhelmingly passed the Legislature and is expected to be passed by Governor Baker. Regrettably, the bill contains a religious exemption that is a loophole in the law just as the religious exemption to laws requiring children attending public schools to be vaccinated created a loophole allowing outbreaks of dormant diseases like measles. Conversion therapy should be outlawed without exceptions.

The commission called for increased funding for HIV prevention and for programs for homeless youth. It also called for all state employees to undergo LGBTQ competency and inclusion training.

These are all fine ideas, but there are limits to what can be legislated when it comes to societal issues. Young people lean toward conformity, which is why LGBTQ youth can see themselves as outcasts, especially when they are treated as outcasts. It is incumbent on parents, relatives and other role models to teach young people that the sexual orientation of their peers does not lessen them as human beings, and they deserve to be treated with fairness.

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