Governor Baker ‘Disappointed’ With Trump Transgender Order Rollback
By State House News Service | February 23, 2017, 19:36 EST
By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — Governor Charlie Baker expressed disappointment with the Trump administration’s new transgender policy and Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday invited President Trump to visit Massachusetts to see what the state’s transgender protection laws are “all about.”
The Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday withdrew a May 2016 Obama administration directive for schools to treat students in accordance with their gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.
The federal change will have no direct effect on students in Massachusetts, according to the Baker administration and advocates. Bay State lawmakers passed laws in 2011 and 2016 that grant anti-discrimination protections to transgender people in the state.
“I’m disappointed with the decision that the administration made to roll that back,” Baker said. “Thankfully, here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we’ve had in place standing administrative guidance on this issue for school districts in Massachusetts for the better part of four or five years, and we signed as you know legislation last year protecting transgendered individuals.”
Skailer Qvistgaard, a transgender man, said he was “proud to live in a state where transgender students feel affirmed in their school” at a news conference in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office on Thursday. [Photo: Andy Metzger/SHNS]
Baker added, “I obviously don’t support the message, and I don’t believe it’s the right message, but I do believe that here in the Commonwealth of Mass. — and this is an important message for us to share with our colleagues in education and our colleagues in the community — that here in Massachusetts kids are going to be protected and kids are going to be able to feel safe and secure in the communities they live in and the schools that they go to.”
Ann Coulter, a prominent Republican media personality, tweeted in response to the Republican governor’s reaction, “Massachusetts, you’d be better off with a Democrat next time.”
At a press conference Thursday, Healey said she heard the news while on the phone with her 8-year-old niece. “It broke my heart and I turned to immediately think about the many young people and families across our country who were hearing that news,” Healey said.
The attorney general said she was “very serious” in her invitation to Trump to visit Massachusetts, and extended the invitation as well to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose offices issued the letter withdrawing an Obama administration guidance.
In a memo intended to go out to Massachusetts public school leaders Thursday, Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester reaffirmed the state’s commitment “to protecting the rights of transgender students even in light of recent federal actions.”
In a letter on Wednesday, officials from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice said the 2016 guidance did not “contain extensive legal analysis” and its enforcement was blocked nationwide by a federal judge in Texas.
“Please note that this withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment,” read the letter from U.S. Department of Education Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Sandra Battle and Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights T.E. Wheeler. “All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
In a statement Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “The action taken today by the Trump administration is encouraging and my office is evaluating what impact it might bear on our ongoing litigation. Our fight over the bathroom directive has always been about former President Obama’s attempt to bypass Congress and rewrite the laws to fit his political agenda for radical social change. The Obama administration’s directive on bathrooms unlawfully invaded areas that are left to state discretion under the Tenth Amendment. School policy should center on the safety, privacy and dignity of its students, not the whims federal of bureaucrats.”
Healey said the Trump administration was targeting children.
“They seem to be hell bent on punching down, and I would like to see Donald Trump pick on somebody his own size and not a child,” Healey said. She said, “I think it’s symbolic that the first order of business by our new United States attorney general was to go after vulnerable kids, and in particular transgender students.”
The attorney general said a recent study had shown that states that passed civil rights protections saw “significant and immediate” declines in suicide attempts by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Joining Healey in condemnation of the rollback were House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and others. Jacob Lemay, a transgender boy who turns 7 on Friday, joined the officials at the press conference.
“I find it very shameful that the Trump administration has chosen to propagate an atmosphere of bigotry and bullying against young and vulnerable citizens. When we stand together, we’re saying ‘Not in Massachusetts,'” DeLeo said.
The speaker said the president should “hear real-life stories about what transgender youth go through.”
At the end of the press conference, Healey helped 8-year-old Ella Lemay, Jacob’s older sister, up to the podium where Lemay said, “We will talk to Trump so hard if he comes here.”
[Katie Lannan contributed reporting to this story.]