Massachusetts (Finally) Moves to Protect Sex Slaves, Transgender People

While most of the buzz coming out of Beacon Hill has been about State lawmakers and their support of the casino bill, let’s not let that overshadow two very important pieces of legislation also approved this week.

The first is a Human Trafficking Bill that would impose life sentences to pimps and others who manipulate children into forced sex or labor. The bill makes an important distinction and treats those coerced into prostitution as victims rather than offenders, which is particularly relevant when you consider that the average age a female is forced into the sex trade is between 11 and 13. Right now there are an estimated 27 million people trafficked annually, creating one of the fastest growing black markets in the world. And Attorney General Martha Coakley has said that human trafficking has been on a swift and steady rise throughout the state. But despite that, Massachusetts has dragged its feet, and was one of only three states in the country not to have an anti-trafficking law on the books. It’s on its way to the Governor’s desk now, and that’s a very good thing.

The other very good thing to come out of the State House this week is the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, which adds “gender identity or expression” protections to the state’s civil rights laws and now includes acts committed against transgender people to the state’s hate crime laws. Despite House Republicans seemingly ludicrous effort to somehow equate human rights for transgender people with a threat to small businesses, the bill passed in both the House and the Senate and has the full support of the Governor. Advocates for Massachusetts’ transgender community have been working for six years to get the bill passed, and say that 33,000 people in the state identify themselves as transgender.

“The Massachusetts legislature today recognized that transgender residents should be treated equally and protected under the law,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “The Transgender Equal Rights Bill has languished for years, but today the Legislature sent a clear message of fairness and equality.”

The Bay State is the 16th state (along with D.C.) to put protections for gender identity on the books. At least in that regard, Massachusetts is slightly ahead of the pack.