Let politics place youth at risk
In 2006 Governor Mitt Romney tried but failed to shut down the Massachusetts Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. The Commission, the first agency of its kind in the country, was started in 1992 by Governor William Weld to address alarming suicide attempt rates among GLBT youth.
Romney was upset, Chief of Staff Beth Myers told me. The Commission had issued on official stationery a Youth Pride press release using the word “transgender.” The government issue stationery had Romney’s name on its sidebar. His name and the word “transgender” on the same page was so offensive—and the pressure about this from a right-wing group called “Article 8” was so threatening to his budding presidential ambitions—Romney was reversing his two years of public support for the work of the Commission.
I didn’t take Myers on about the absurdity there was anything toxic to the word “transgender.” The Commission has long wanted to change its name to include BT but realized we would get nowhere with the Romney administration. I knew of Romney’s squeamishness about anything smacking of sexuality and government sponsorship from casual discussions with Department of Public Health workers. They told me his office had ordered a poster recommending breast-feeding to be taken down and never distributed because the photograph was too revealing.
I wanted to keep the Commission alive. I apologized to Myers for the error. The press release was supposed to go out on letterhead of the Friends of GLBT Youth, the non-profit, 501c3 running Youth Pride, I explained. My apology was of no use, Myers told me. The Commission was dead.
State legislators responded immediately. Liz Malia sat in at the Governor’s office; others, including Jarrett Barrios, Byron Rushing, Carl Sciortino, and Alice Wolf, rallied support. It was front-page news the next morning in the Boston Globe. By then, in response to the outcry against his action, the Governor reversed-—again. He rescinded his order to shut the Commission down.
Within days the Commission petitioned (and succeeded) to exist by law, through legislative action, so that never again could a Governor dissolve this Commission and its vital work.
Kathleen Henry, Chair of the MA Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth in 2006, currently serving on the MA Commission on GLBT Youth.