AG Healey Joins Beacon Hill Leadership And An 8-Year-Old From Melrose To Rip Trump’s Transgender Policy Shift
By Evan Lips | February 24, 2017, 22:43 EDT
BOSTON — President Donald Trump’s revocation of a set of public accommodations “guidelines” for how to treat transgender public school students enacted by former president Barack Obama’s administration prompted howls of criticism this week, especially from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Healey on Thursday organized a press conference, centered on a 7-year-old transgender boy from Melrose, and proceeded to rip into the Trump administration’s decision to leave the transgender public school bathroom and changing room policy matters up to the states.
“Last night the president and the United States attorney general sent a message that discrimination is acceptable and that loved ones, little loved ones, aren’t worthy of equal protection under the law,” Healey said during the press conference, where she was joined by House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).
Standing to Healey’s side was Jacob Lemay, a biological female who identifies as a boy and who turned 7 years old Friday, accompanied by his mother, Mimi, younger sister, Lucia, and older sister, Ella. Two years ago Mimi Lemay penned an op-ed describing how she came to realize that her then-3-year-old daughter was self-identifying as a boy.
On Thursday Lemay pointed to studies she said debunk the notion that “transgender students pose a unique danger in any way to their cisgender peers.”
(“Cisgender” refers to people whose gender identity corresponds to their biological sex.)
“For adults, members of Congress, cabinet members, even the president, to contend that affirming transgender students and their identities is a matter of privacy and states’ rights is as ludicrous as it is disingenuous,” Lemay said. “Allowing individual states to decide whether our children will have equal access to an education is a dangerous idea.
“States should not get to pick and choose which civil rights they should afford to their citizens.”
Obama’s directive, which weighed heavily upon his administration’s interpretation of Title IX sexual equality laws, threatened to withhold federal funds from school districts that declined to comply. The May 2016 “guidance letter” was issued about a month before Massachusetts lawmakers passed, with Governor Charlie Baker’s signature, the state’s own wide-ranging transgender public accommodations law.
Baker was not present at Thursday’s press conference but has gone on record to express his “disappointment” with Trump’s rollback.
Obama’s directive affected all public schools, from kindergarten through college. Trump’s revision holds that “schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment” and includes a legal obligation to “hear all claims of discrimination.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a prepared statement, argued that Obama’s guidance “did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX.”
The Trump administration’s memo also cites a ruling handed down by a federal court in Texas that “held that the term ‘sex’ unambiguously refers to biological sex and that, in any event, the guidance was ‘legislative and substantive’ and thus formal rule-making should have occurred prior to the adoption of any such policy,” meaning that Obama erred by declining to work with Congress to change existing law.
The court later ordered the enforcement of the judge’s ruling. Trump’s memo notes that the “nationwide injunction has not been overturned.”
Meanwhile, Healey at her press conference cited a study purporting to show that more progressive states experience fewer teen suicides than their more conservative counterparts.
“That didn’t matter to you, President Trump, or you, Jeff Sessions, or to you, [secretary of education] Betsy DeVos, and that’s too bad,” Healey said. “I think you should look folks like the Lemays in the eye and explain to them why you think it’s OK that their family isn’t worthy of dignity and respect.”
Rosenberg criticized the Trump administration’s interpretation and, like Healey, praised himself and other lawmakers for being proactive in passing their own public accommodations bill.
“We have a sworn duty to obey the equal protection clause, which is embedded in both the federal and state constitutions,” he said. “I think some folks in the Trump administration need to go back to school and join these children that we’re protecting and re-read the constitution.”
Rosenberg added that if lawmakers “find there’s a need to do more, we will work together to make sure that is done” and noted that the state Legislature is “putting our actions where our words are.”
“I remind those in our federal government, who seem to be very focused on a set of values they believe to be faith-based — it was written in different forms in the Koran, in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in so many other books that have been written by communities of faith — variations on the theme and the idea that if you save but one child, it’s as though you’ve saved the whole world,” Rosenberg said. “If you lose one child, it’s as though you’ve lost the whole world.”
DeLeo proceeded to mock a previous claim made by Trump, who said his administration is working “like a well-oiled machine.”
“I think it’s probably a machine that’s ready for the scrap heap,” said DeLeo. “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 stand together, we’re saying, ‘not in Massachusetts’.”
DeLeo described the Trump administration’s new interpretation as “outrageous,” and like DeLeo, congratulated himself and his fellow lawmakers for passing a bill of their own.
“When I heard about this news the first thing I thought about were the kids and the young adults I met with when we were working to pass last year’s law,” DeLeo added. “I would advise the president, that if he were to sit down and talk to these young people, he may learn something.”
The last to speak was Jacob Lemay’s 8-year-old sister, Ella, who was propped up at the podium by Healey, moments after the attorney general led attendees through a singing of “Happy Birthday” for Jacob.
“What I’d like to say today is that we should all work together to make sure Jacob and other transgender people are safe,” Ella said. “We will talk to Trump so hard if he comes here that he’ll have to blow down the wall.
“It’s not fair to people who feel scared, to all transgender people, and to any of you out here who disagree, I want you to listen to me, and I want you to know you shouldn’t make people feel scared because you think you’re bigger and have more power — no one has more power than everyone else, you should share love, hope is the step of every mission.”
READ: Trump administration’s transgender memo