The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, the Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates and the Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, on April 7 issued the following letter to the clergy of the diocese, urging support for statewide nondiscrimination protections for transgender people now pending in the state legislature. The text of the letter follows.
Many of you will recall that our Diocesan Convention in 2008 voted its support of laws–local, state and federal–that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or the expression of one’s gender identity. Many of you worked diligently over a period of years for the passage in 2011 of the Massachusetts law that protects transgender people from discriminatory practices in employment, housing, public education and bank lending. That measure also added gender identification to the state’s hate crimes law.
Securing those protections was an incomplete victory, however, in that the 2011 law did not ensure equal access for transgender people to public spaces–for example, restaurants, parks, libraries and public restroom facilities. A bill that would do so (SB735/HB1577) is now before the Massachusetts legislature.
Freedom Massachusetts, a coalition working to pass statewide nondiscrimination protections for transgender people, is about to publish its growing list of Massachusetts faith leaders who support the pending legislation. We, along with many of you, have signed on to the coalition’sMassachusetts Faith Leaders for Freedom pledge, as have Bishop Doug Fisher of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and our own retired Bishop Suffragan Bud Cederholm. We want to make sure you are aware of this effort and urge you to sign on if you feel called to offer your support. Upcoming additional ways to be involved include the April 9-10 Faith Weekend of Action andcontacting your legislators to urge their support.
We believe it is important to name as particularly egregious the fear-based argument put forth by some opponents of this bill that would have us believe that protecting one group’s civil rights somehow puts another group at risk. Characterizing equal access to public accommodations as a public safety issue is unwarranted and not supported by facts, and, from our faith perspective, to do so contravenes our conviction to honor the humanity of all people.
Securing the civil rights of transgender people is about fairness and justice, for certain, but it goes deeper than that because it is not just about one particular group of people. It is about all of us. Our Christian faith calls us to speak out against systems that denigrate the humanity we all share as God’s beloved people, and to work for the repair of such systems.
Will we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Here is an opportunity to do just that. Please consider joining us in support of this legislation.
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan
April 7, 2016