Massachusetts has long been one of the greatest champions of civil rights in our nation. I have always considered myself fortunate to live in a state where tolerance is promoted and discrimination is prohibited against our residents. However, there is still progress to be made to ensure that every Massachusetts resident has equal access to opportunity and can live without fear of discrimination.
No citizen should be denied the right to live in accordance with his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. I am proud of our Commonwealth’s reputation for supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry, and I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to establish marriage equality nationwide. As a Commonwealth, we must do everything we can to ensure that every resident is protected equally under the law. This is why I have been an ardent supporter of legislation aimed at strengthening protections for LGBTQ community in the Massachusetts.
In 2011, my colleagues and I in the Legislature took a critical step towards protecting transgender individuals from discrimination in passing the Transgender Equal Rights Act. I was proud to vote for this landmark piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression with regard to employment, credit, education, and housing.
Despite this legislation, however, discrimination against transgender individuals has continued to persist in Massachusetts. Although several agencies have started to address compliance with the 2011 law, implementation has varied considerably between agencies. Furthermore, transgender people still do not have protections for public accommodations under the current law, meaning that a business owner could refuse to serve a transgender person or restrict bathroom access. This is why I have filed legislation that requires each executive department and agency to fully comply with the Transgender Equal Rights Act, and I am a co-sponsor of legislation that updates the 2011 law to include the right to access public spaces, regardless of gender identity.
I have also been a strong champion of funding for the LBGTQ Youth Commission that is charged with enhancing and improving the ability of state agencies to provide services that protect and support the health and safety of LGBTQ youth in the schools and communities of Massachusetts. Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have repeatedly advocated for additional funding for the Commission, which has been critical in addressing suicide prevention and violence intervention policies regarding harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ youth. In my role as Vice Chair of Ways and Means, I will continue to advocate for this funding and legislation that ensures that all of our citizens are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
Our Commonwealth has a legacy of being a welcoming place for newcomers, and I strongly believe we should remain an inviting destination for people in search of better lives for themselves and their families. Our communities and our economy are made stronger by the diverse group of people who choose to live here, and I believe that we must do all that we can to ensure immigrants are treated with fairness and respect, and have equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
Throughout my tenure in the Senate, I have continuously voted against legislation and amendments to the state budget that would harm our vibrant immigrant and refugee community in Massachusetts. In one of my very first votes as a State Senator, I proudly stood with only nine other colleagues in opposition to legislation that unfairly targeted our state’s immigrants. Since then, I have repeatedly advocated for initiatives that provide critical services to our immigrant and refugee population and programs that help residents of Massachusetts become United States citizens.
Massachusetts’s Citizenship for New Americans Program (CNAP) has been essential to helping immigrants become naturalized citizens and offers critical services, such as English for Speakers of Other Languages and civics classes, citizenship application assistance, and interview preparation and support service. The Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants’ (ORI) New American Integration Program also plays a crucial role in providing assistance to refugees and immigrants in need of employment and naturalization services. I have been a consistent advocate of increased funding for CNAP and ORI over the years, and I will continue to do so in my role as Senate Vice Chair of Ways and Means.
In the 25 years following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities have made great progress towards achieving equality in housing, employment, and access to services. Unfortunately, it has become clear that adults with disabilities are still targets of discrimination. We must recognize that more work must be done to ensure that this population is both protected and empowered.
During my tenure in the Senate, I have proudly supported legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. I have also advocated for greater housing to help ease the hardships on the disabled, their families, and the organizations who work to provide services to these individuals. Furthermore, I have been a consistent supporter of funding for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program, which helps people with disabilities afford the housing they need.
Massachusetts can and should continue its legacy of progress and inclusion. We can do that by passing legislation that helps to ensure that all of our citizens are treated equally under the law. As State Senator, I will continue to be a defender of civil rights to ensure that every resident of Massachusetts receives the respect they deserve.