Sunday is Mother’s Day, and that means all weekend, we’ll be celebrating moms.
Moms do so much to ensure their children live happy, fulfilling lives—and for the mothers of transgender children in Massachusetts, that means working to uphold the transgender non-discrimination protections that are set to go to the ballot in 2018.
Here are their stories:
Lauren Leahy and her husband, Stephen, are the proud parents of three: a 6-year-old daughter, an 8-year-old daughter, and their 10-year-old son, Alex, who is transgender.
Alex was born a female and socially transitioned—meaning he started to identify as male publicly, including at school—two years ago. He had initially begun to express a male gender identity when he was 2 years old. And while at the time, they were unsure what this meant, they clearly knew that Alex was struggling to fit into the gender he had been assigned at birth.
“His level of anxiety and gender dysphoria—he knows exactly who he is, but struggles with how others perceive him—that’s the ongoing challenge,” Lauren said, noting that their small community and Alex’s school have embraced him, both of which take a prominent worry off her mind.
It’s the larger world, she says, that worries her as a parent—especially in the current political climate, where anti-transgender forces are attempting to rollback transgender non-discrimination protections, including here in Massachusetts.
“I struggle every day with will he be safe in the world, will he be protected? Will he be able to live a full life as a part of the world like he should?” –Lauren Leahy, Sherborn
“I struggle every day with will he be safe in the world, will he be protected?” she said. “Will he be able to live a full life as a part of the world like he should?”
This feeling drove Lauren and her family to get involved in the push to pass #TransLawMA last year—the law that now ensures transgender people in Massachusetts are fully protected in public spaces like medical offices, parks and hotels. Now, with an initiative seeking to repeal this law on the ballot in 2018, Lauren and her family are speaking up and sharing their story to show why this law matters to real people across the state. Her son’s ability to live a full life depends on it, she said.
“Every parent just wants their child to blossom and be able to live fully, and not having him be protected would make me fear for his safety on a daily basis,” she said. “This is not a choice, it’s who he is. It’s not a decision that he made, it is a deep part of his identity, and he deserves to live with authenticity.”
When Beryl’s son Micah came out to her as transgender when he was 21-years-old, she remembers feeling “overwhelmed”—not because of what her son had just told her, but because, as a social worker, she knew many things he didn’t tell her.
“I was overwhelmed with the need to protect my son from a world that suddenly seemed a very unsafe and unfair place,” she said, noting that transgender people in Massachusetts face higher rates of assault, homelessness and suicide.
Her son, she says, can’t go out to a bar, or to a club—things that are normally a way for young people to relax—without fearing being turned away because of his gender identity, or worse, harassed.
“I immigrated to this country to escape apartheid and live in a place that values freedom and protections from discrimination,” she said. “My husband and I chose Massachusetts because we believe it is a symbol of freedom and equality in America.” –Beryl Domingo, Bridgewater
Until last year, the law didn’t protect Micah from this kind of discrimination That’s when Beryl decided to start fighting to secure non-discrimination protections for her son, a fight that ended with the passage of a law ensuring transgender people can’t be denied service in public places like restaurants, hospitals and public bathrooms because of their gender identity.
Beryl, who emigrated from South Africa to escape the violent discrimination of apartheid, said she was shocked to learn that her adopted state of Massachusetts was lagging behind so badly in ensuring non-discrimination protections for all people.
“I immigrated to this country to escape apartheid and live in a place that values freedom and protections from discrimination,” she said. “My husband and I chose Massachusetts because we believe it is a symbol of freedom and equality in America.”
Now that her son is fully protected under the law, she doesn’t want to see Massachusetts slide backward—something opponents of transgender equality are working hard to do, by placing the repeal of these important protections on the 2018 ballot.
For Mother’s Day this year and every year, she just wants what every mother wants: Fairness for her son.
“I want him to be treated with respect, to have fair access to everyday resources like restaurants and hospitals, and to be ensured the same legal protections that everyone else in our family has in the face of discrimination.”
Worries big and small come with the territory of being a parent—so last year, when Massachusetts passed non-discrimination protections fully protecting transgender people like her son Colby, Kitty Flynn breathed a sigh of relief.
It was one less worry, she said, and it was a big one. But now that some groups are mobilizing against the new law, that worry is creeping back. And it now includes not just Colby, but other transgender people, including parents and children, who she became close to during last year’s legislative push.
“The idea that it could be repealed not only makes me think of something that’s being taken away from my son’s future—it will affect people I know who are incredibly vulnerable, and misunderstood, and it won’t help that at all,” she said.
“The idea that it could be repealed not only makes me think of something that’s being taken away from my son’s future—it will affect people I know who are incredibly vulnerable, and misunderstood, and it won’t help that at all.” –Kitty Flynn, Melrose
Kitty first got involved in the movement to pass full non-discrimination protections for transgender Bay Staters in 2015, when her friend, Mimi Lemay, invited her to a lobby day at the state capitol. Mimi’s son, Jacob, is also transgender.
Mimi and Kitty were part of a growing group of parents forming a network across the state to advocate for their children’s right to live authentically, free from the fear that their gender expression will limit their participation in society.
Last January, Colby’s first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and the students were tasked with finishing the statement “I have a dream that …”
“Colby has as much right to exist in public spaces as his cisgender brother and any of his friends,” she said.
Although Colby, as a seven year old, hasn’t yet been subjected to harassment or discrimination because of his gender identity, Kitty said he already understands what it means to be an equal member of society—and that these nondiscrimination protections protect his right to equal treatment.
Last January, Colby’s first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and the students were tasked with finishing the statement “I have a dream that …” Colby wrote:
“I have a dream that trans people can do whatever they want, because trans people are just normal people.”
That’s this mother’s dream, too.