Our Opinion: City Council made its Q3 stance too complicated
The Pittsfield City Council did the right thing Tuesday night when it voted unanimously to support equal rights for all city residents, including members of the transgender community. However, it did so only after tying itself knots in a debate over whether this would be seen as an endorsement of a "Yes" vote on Question 3 on the statewide November ballot, which would keep in place a state law protecting the rights of that community. If that is how residents interpret the vote then all the better — efforts to remove rights given to transgender people are abhorrent.
The original petition presented to the City Council by the Human Rights Commission called for the keeping of a state law preventing discrimination against transgender people in public places, which is the essence of a "Yes" vote on Question 3. The Commission agreed to eliminate this clause at the request of City Council President Peter Marchetti, who fears a slippery slope in which the Council is asked to endorse candidates. The Council, however, can deal with such petitions as they arrive and reject requested endorsements of candidates if and when they come before them.
City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo expressed concern that approving the petition would be interpreted as telling residents what to do, but the City Council does this routinely in telling residents, through councilors' votes, that they must pay for a new high school or stop at a newly installed stop sign. In this case, residents have a choice as to whether or not they want to follow the City Council's recommendation on how to vote on a ballot issue.
Councilor Chris Connell made a motion to remove mention of the transgender community so it would only advocate equal rights for all. While the Ward 4 councilor said he supported the cause of transgender people his argument, unfortunately, mirrors that of those who argue the state should not offer civil rights protection to a specific group, but only extend it too. That sounds high-minded, but this group has exposed its bigotry by claiming that the state law allows transgender people to invade women's restrooms even though there is no record of this happening since the law was enacted. The reality is that transgender people are exposed to prejudice, and bullying in schools, at a higher rate than that of the general population and need special protection under the law.
The No on 2 advocates are making the same disingenuous argument that the "All Lives Matter" advocates use to undermine the "Black Lives Matter" cause. All lives do matter, but it is the lives of African-Americans, particularly men, that are disproportionately threatened by elements of the police community.
Councilors Earl Persip, Helen Moon and Peter White expressed amazement that the City Council was even having this debate on such an open-and-shut issue. Not only does Question 3 deserve a Yes vote on its merits, the question is the first ballot referendum question in the state that would take away the civil rights of a specific group that it hadwon by law. That would set a horrible precedent. Whose rights would be under attack on the next statewide ballot?
City councilors are community leaders and should never be reluctant to express their opinions either individually or collectively on the issues of the day. We wish they had taken a clear stand urging a "Yes" vote on Question 3, as some city councilors clearly were ready to do. The City Council gets partial credit for endorsing the concept if not the actual question.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.