Growing up, I never heard the term “transgender.” While in college, I became aware of the civil rights movements for the gay and lesbian community and worked on issues like opposing the U.S. military’s discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers, but the first time I really learned about what it means to be transgender was during a dinner table conversation with my family one summer while I was home from school.
My dad, an electrical engineer at the time for Raytheon Company, which does a great amount of work with the U.S. military building weapons and defense systems, mentioned over dinner that an employee named Terry came to work that day wearing women ‘s clothes. As my dad explained, “One day he was a man, and the next a woman.” My dad explained further, in that analytical manner of an engineer, that Terry had had a sex change over the past year apparently, and now had come out fully as a woman.
I was reminded of this memory today as I listened to the parents of transgender children at the State House, asking the Legislature to pass H1728, An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes, to prevent discrimination against people based on gender identity or expression.
What I remember best from that dinner table conversation with my dad is how matter of fact the discussion was. I really can’t remember any more details, other than how proud I was of my dad — and still am now — for being so unconcerned about someone’s gender preference. I am also extremely proud that there were no stories of Terry’s co-workers discriminating against her, or that Raytheon had taken any action against her. In fact, as I learned today from talking to my dad, Raytheon has always been a company ahead of the curve in supporting co-workers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The company even had a transgender chapter.
Raytheon is a company that — whether or not you agree with every defense program that the military builds — makes tremendous contributions to keeping the United States and all Americans safe. I was always proud of my dad’s contributions to the company in creating new radar systems to defend against missile attacks around the world. By having a firm anti-discrimination policy in place, including for transgender people, Raytheon was not just protecting Terry’s civil rights, but it was helping make the company’s workforce as strong as it could be.
One of my colleagues last week commented that the Massachusetts Legislature should be focused on creating jobs, and not on allegedly less trivial matters like protecting people’s civil rights.
But creating jobs isn’t done by some wave of the magic wand by the Great and General Court and Governor Patrick. By passing laws, Massachusetts creates an environment where jobs are either created or not created. I would argue that one of the key factors that makes Massachusetts such an attractive place to create jobs is that both through our culture and ours laws, the Commonwealth is a very inclusive society, and has a long history of eliminating discrimination.
There are lots of pieces of legislation that Massachusetts can pass to make the state a better place, and hopefully create more jobs. Passing this legislation to make sure that people like Terry who might work, live or go to school in places that aren’t as friendly towards people like her as my dad or Raytheon was, will not only make life better for her, but foster an atmosphere that is also more job-friendly for everyone.