Posts Categorized: LGBTQ

BBA Government Relations Year in Review: Part II

Hopefully you enjoyed part I of our Year in Review, discussing our efforts on amicus briefs and criminal justice reforms.  Part II will discuss our comments on proposed rules changes, efforts at increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, civil legal aid funding advocacy, and legislative victory!  2016 was a great and productive year and we’re looking forward to doing even more in 2017!

BBA Rules Comments

One component of the BBA’s policy function that sometimes goes overlooked is the work of our Sections in reviewing and commenting on proposed amendments to rule changes.  This is a great benefit to our members as it empowers them to be involved in making positive changes that directly impact their practice areas.  This is especially true because the courts do a great job of listening to the concerns of practitioners and frequently make changes based on our comments.  Here are links to some of our coverage:

Diversity, Civil Legal Aid, Legislation and more!

Given space and time constraints (we’ve got to get going on all our 2017 work!!), I’m going to lump together everything else including our posts on the courts, diversity and inclusion, civil legal aid funding, and more.  Here are a few highlights:

  • December 15: ‘Tis the Season to Focus on Civil Legal Aid – Advocating for civil legal aid funding is one of the BBA’s main priorities every year. We work on the issue year round, but the campaign really starts moving in earnest with the kickoff event, Walk to the Hill, held this year on January 26.  The event brings together hundreds of lawyers who hear speeches from bar leaders including our President and the Chief Justice of the SJC and then encourages them to spread throughout the building to visit their elected officials and spread the word about the importance of legal aid funding.

As explained in this year’s fact sheet, the needs are still massive (around 1 million people qualify for civil legal aid by receiving incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level, meaning about $30,000 for a family of four), the turn-away rates are still too high (roughly 64%, due to under-funding), and civil legal aid remains a smart investment for the state (it returns $2 to $5 for every $1 invested).  In FY16, MLAC-funded programs closed over 23,000 cases, assisting 88,000 low-income individuals across the state.  And this is only part of the picture as they provided limited advice, information, and training to countless others.  More funding will enable them to take on more cases, represent more people, shrink the justice gap, and return more money to the state.  It will also ease a massive burden on the courts which are bogged down by pro se litigants as illustrated in this video from Housing Court.

We hope to see you on January 26 at the Walk and that you will stay engaged throughout the budget cycle, which stretches to the spring.  For more on that, check out our latest podcast!  We will keep you updated here with all the latest developments and may ask that you reach out to your elected officials at key times to again voice your support.  Last year we shared six posts  throughout the budget, updating you on all of our priorities, including legal aid, the Trial Court, and statewide expansion of the Housing Court.  Our final budget post from August 4 shows where everything wrapped up.  For anyone interested in the process, check out our older budget posts from April 14, April 21, May 5, May 19, and June 30 as well.

  • August 9: BBA Clarifies Zoning Law and Promotes Real Estate Development – More traditionally, the BBA is known for its work on legislation. We support a number of bills of interest to our practice-specific Sections as well as the organization as a whole.  On August 5, the Governor signed into law H3611, An Act relative to non-conforming structures.  The BBA has supported this bill in various forms since 1995, behind the leadership of its Real Estate Law Section, as a means of improving the clarity of Massachusetts zoning laws and thereby promoting economic and real estate development.  During the current legislative session we were pleased to receive help and support from Council member Michael Fee, who testified on the bill at a legislative hearing in May 2015.  We look forward to more legislative successes this session!

As you can see it’s been quite a year.  This doesn’t even touch on dozens of other posts on things we were or are involved with.  We hope you’ll keep reading through the new year for all the latest news from the BBA’s Government Relations team and give us a follow on twitter for even more late breaking news!

I want to end on a personal note to say that this will be my final Issue Spot post.  I have drafted hundreds over the last 3.5 years at the BBA and loved being able to be part of all the incredible work of the Association and its members.  I am excited to be moving to a new position, but will certainly miss the BBA and hope to stay involved.  Thank you for reading!

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

Celebrating Enactment of the Transgender Rights Bill

We’re thrilled that last Friday Governor Charlie Baker signed the Transgender Rights Bill (S2407) into law.  Massachusetts joins 17 other states and the District of Columbia, along with more than 200 cities and counties, explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.  Here is a brief breakdown of the various provisions of the bill:

  • Section 1 prohibits public accommodation discrimination for gender identity.
  • Section 2 requires proprietors of public accommodations segregated by sex to provide the accommodation consistent with individuals’ gender identity.
  • Section 3 adds gender identity to the list of actionable public accommodation transgressions, making discrimination punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or imprisonment up to 1 year and potentially liable for additional damages for the victim.
  • Section 4 calls on the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the Attorney General’s Office to make rules and regulations by September 1, 2016, that effectuate the purposes of the act, including defining when and how gender identity may be evidenced and guidance for legal action against any person who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose.

The new law will be phased in, with Sections 1 and 4 taking effect immediately and Sections 2 and 3 taking effect on October 1, 2016.

This compromise version of the bill emerged from a legislative conference committee on July 6.  The committee was chaired by the Judiciary Committee Co-Chairs, Senator William Brownsberger and Representative John Fernandes, and included Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Bruce Tarr and Representatives Sarah Peake and Sheila Harrington.  They were tasked with amalgamating the House (H4343) and Senate (S735) versions of the bill, which had different effective dates (Senate: immediately, House: January 1, 2017).  Furthermore, the House version included language similar to the current Section 4, requiring the MCAD and Attorney General to consider rules for enforcement and misuse, that was not in the Senate version.  The Senate passed its version by a vote of 33-4 on May 12.  The House passed its version, 116-36, on June 1.

The law was passed despite some opposition centered on the use of bathrooms, which had previously had an impact in 2011, when public accommodations protections were removed from a broad transgender-rights bill before it passed that year.  The BBA supported that law (read our testimony here), which was enacted without the public-accommodations piece, taking effect on July 1, 2012.

Even without public accommodation protections, that bill took important steps forward, giving transgender people clear legal recourse if they face discrimination at work, in public housing, education, or when applying for credit.  At the time, Massachusetts became the 16th state to add gender identity to its non-discrimination laws in these areas.  It also added gender identity to the Massachusetts hate crime statutes.

We weighed in shortly afterwards, holding a number of programs on the impacts of the new law and publishing an article in the Boston Bar Journal highlighting ways lawyers could try to combat public accommodation discrimination for transgender victims, even without explicit legal protection.  We are pleased that, finally, lawyers representing transgender discrimination victims will no longer have to face the challenges and uncertainty highlighted in that article.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association

BBA Protects Individual Rights, Opposes Conversion Therapy

We are proud to announce here that the BBA Council recently voted unanimously to support H.97: An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors.  Read our press release here.  This is only the latest step in the BBA’s long history of advocacy to assure equality and individual rights, including supporting the 1989 “Gay Rights Bill” and working with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition on the Transgender Equal Rights Bill which was enacted in 2012.  We are also proud of our longstanding relationship with the LGBTQ Bar Association, which has enjoyed affinity bar status at the BBA for over 20 years.

What is Conversion/Reparative Therapy?

Also called ex-gay therapy or sexual orientation change efforts, these are all various “treatments” that purport to change sexual orientation and gender identity based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBTQ is a psychological defect or disorder.  The techniques associated with conversion therapy are often violent (e.g., electric shocks, induced nausea or vomiting) and psychologically damaging.  Furthermore, the American Psychological Association (APA) has long held that gender identity and sexual orientation are at the core of who we are as individuals; they are not mental disorders. Treating them as such runs against best practices in medicine. In fact, a 2007 APA task force report found not only clear evidence that conversion therapy does not work, but also some significant evidence that it is harmful.

As a result, medical and child welfare experts nationally and locally have condemned conversion therapy, declaring it ineffective, physically and mentally damaging, and antithetical to the current scientific understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In spite of this, the practice is currently statutorily illegal only in California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.  Courts in the Third and Ninth Circuits have upheld these bans.

What are we doing about it?

The bill we support, H.97, bars licensed health care professionals from engaging with minors in therapeutic practices aimed at either changing or “healing” the minor’s sexual orientation, in particular same-sex attraction, or eliminating the minor’s sincerely held conviction that their birth assigned gender is different or inappropriate from their actual gender identity.  The bill also requires state mandatory reporters to report suspected incidences of these practices and makes advertising them  a violation of consumer protection laws.

Health care professionals – including licensed social workers, child psychologists, school social workers, therapists and other state-licensed professionals – are expected to assist their clients, in these instances by helping them learn to accept their individual gender identity and sexual orientation, not to cause further harm or suffering. This bill ensures that medical and psychological treatment for our children will follow the highest ethical standards.

Even though we are not aware of these practices currently going on in Massachusetts, there have been some recent news stories of their occurrence in other states, most notably a recent case in New Jersey, Michael Ferguson v. JONAH, wherein a conversion therapy provider was found guilty of committing consumer fraud in a case involving an adult who underwent such treatment.

The Massachusetts bill is formally supported by at least ten groups with interests ranging from child welfare to health care to human rights, including MassEquality.org, GLAD, and the Children’s League of Massachusetts.  In addition, the American Bar Association recently approved a resolution and report recognizing the right of LGBTQ people to be free from attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity and urging all federal and state governments to enact laws prohibiting state-licensed professionals from using conversion therapy on minors.

In July, the Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the bill, and shortly thereafter it had a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.  At this hearing, 19 people testified in support and 8 people testified in opposition.  The opposition was comprised of concerned individuals and out-of-state groups, such as the Family Research Council (anti-gay-marriage and pro-life organization in Washington, D.C.) and the Florida Alliance of Therapy and Choice.  Supporters included the American Counseling Association, National Association of Social Workers, Boston Children’s Hospital, GLBT Caucus, Massachusetts Health Council, Transgender Political Coalition, and the Anti-Defamation League.  Representative Kay Khan, the bill’s sponsor also testified.  Read her testimony here.

The BBA looks forward to advocating for the passage of H.97, which has already been favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, and will keep you updated on the bill’s progress.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association