Lawmakers urge Gov. Baker to support transgender troops

  • Gov. Charlie Baker. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2019 11:25:36 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A group of state legislators, including many from western Massachusetts, is pressing Gov. Charlie Baker to support transgender troops and allow them to enlist and continue to serve in the Massachusetts National Guard, despite a policy from President Trump that largely bars them from doing so.

“President Trump’s recently implemented military policy is a step backward in that it discriminates against an entire class of people based on their gender transition. It has no place in Massachusetts,” reads a letter, dated June 11, and signed by 65 legislators. “We believe that anyone who is qualified and capable to serve should have the opportunity to do so and that no soldier should be treated any differently today because of who they are.”

In April, President Donald Trump’s new policy effectively banning transgender people from joining the military took effect. Those already serving who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria — distress when one’s gender and biological sex do not match — were allowed to stay. But since the law has taken effect, any person with gender dysphoria is now prohibited from joining the military, and those already serving who come out as transgender must serve under their birth gender.

Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, were two of the leaders on the initiative. Other western Massachusetts legislators who signed the letter include Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland.

The governor is formally the leader of the Massachusetts National Guard, Lesser said. “The governor, as commander in chief, needs to affirm the rights of our transgender service members and their right to continue to serve,” Lesser told the Gazette.

Referencing other states that have said they won’t comply with the rule, Lesser said of the governor, “We hope he’ll follow the lead of governors in California, New Mexico, Colorado, New Jersey and several other states that have proactively affirmed” those rights, and that “as commander in chief of their National Guard, he will continue to welcome and affirm the very important role that transgender troops play in the Massachusets National Guard.”

Domb commented on the letter in a press release, “The Trump Administration’s hateful policies give us an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to all Massachusetts residents. Massachusetts can step up, and I urge the Governor to do so.”

The rule’s effect on some transgender people’s lives has been “devastating,” said Jennifer L. Levi, a transgender lawyer at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders who lives in the Valley and helped write the letter.

Levi is the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project and is a lead attorney on two lawsuits challenging the policy.

“It’s been devastating to hear from people who committed their education and training to serve their country because this ban means that they won’t be allowed to do so,” she said. “They have to make other choices and are not being allowed to step up and do the work they are so capable of doing.”

One of Levi’s cases is filed in California and the other in Washington, D.C. Plaintiffs include active service members, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) students and those who want to join the military. Both cases are headed to trial, Levi said.

So far, Lesser said the lawmakers have not received a formal response to their letter, but he cited an article on Politico, which reported that, on Monday, Baker told reporters, “I think anybody who wants to serve their country and put themselves in harm’s way should be commended and given the opportunity to serve.” He also said he is in talks with the attorney general’s office about the order, “and we’re gonna see what options are available to us.”

“We hope he can formalize that,” Lesser said, “and hopefully reply in writing to the legislators’ request.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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