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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Somerville City Council passes ordinance protecting those seeking gender-affirming care

Somerville City Hall is pictured on March 12, 2022.

The Somerville City Council unanimously passed an ordinance protecting the rights of individuals seeking gender-affirming care on June 9. The ordinance prohibits City of Somerville law enforcement from helping to enforce laws enacted by other states that prevent individuals from accessing gender-affirming care.

Somerville City Councilors At-Large Willie Burnley Jr. and Charlotte Kelly sponsored the legislation, which received support from the ACLU of Massachusetts. It became effective immediately upon passage and coincides with the celebration of June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

The ordinance prevents the Somerville Police Department from undertaking investigations or assisting in law enforcement action against any person seeking or facilitating gender-affirming care. The policy also forbids the city from sharing information requested by other jurisdictions in the context of related civil or criminal action. To Burnley Jr., this puts into place a set of “enforcement mechanisms” that ensure gender-affirming care remains safe and accessible. 

“We’re creating non-compliance by saying the City of Somerville will not help any of these transphobic or sexist laws … by materially contributing to them at all,” Burnley Jr. explained.

Another provision of the law allows individuals to file an official complaint in the event law enforcement or city personnel violate any part of the ordinance.

In a statement to the Daily, Kade Crockford, Technology for Liberty program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, noted the importance of legislation like Somerville’s new ordinance for ensuring safe access to gender-affirming services, particularly in today’s political climate.

“Across the country, hundreds of bills targeting LGBTQ youth have been introduced in state legislatures, including efforts to criminalize gender-affirming care,” Crockford wrote. “At the same time, the recent leaked Supreme Court decision shows that other fundamental rights, including the right to get the reproductive health care we need, are at risk. Gender-affirming care is medically necessary, saves lives, and shouldn’t be the subject of a criminal investigation.”

Access to safe and affordable healthcare has recently been a prominent issue in U.S. politics. A draft of a Supreme Court majority decision leaked in May suggested that the court would strike down Roe v. Wade, and the landmark decision was officially overturned in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization with a 6–3 vote on June 24. 

In addition to this significant ruling, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation continues to be passed across the country, putting those seeking gender-affirming care particularly at risk. In May, the Texas Supreme Court allowed state law enforcement to investigate parents of transgender children who have received gender-affirming care for child abuse, though such investigations were temporarily halted by a judge earlier this month.

Burnley Jr. referred to these recent state actions as “appalling,” and emphasized the need for people across the country to advocate for those affected by homophobic and transphobic legislation.

“I’m really tired of being on the defensive on these kinds of issues,” Burnley Jr. said. “We can absolutely take a stand and push for more rights and protections for folks here and elsewhere.”

Hope Freeman, senior director of the LGBT and Women’s Centers at Tufts, outlined the ways that these legal decisions have continued to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and put their lives at risk.

“Since January 2022 there have been hundreds [of] anti-trans bills introduced nationally; hundreds in 2021, hundreds in 2020, etc.,” she wrote in an email to the Daily. “Many of these bills are structured to deny the right to health care of trans and/or nonbinary young people. I point that out to say that given what is happening with Roe v. Wade there were always trans and/or nonbinary youth that did not have autonomy over their own bodies through anti trans legislation across many states in the US.”

Burnley Jr. also described how the legislation sits at the intersection of a number of different political and social issues — including LGBTQ+ rights, access to healthcare and police reform — and that policies like this one are fundamentally about bodily autonomy.

“We live in an intersectional world, and our system is very multifaceted,” Burnley Jr. said. “If we want to reduce criminalization and if we want to stand up against these bigoted laws — that, to me, are at root about bodily autonomy — then we have to have the ability to constrain our police departments, or to at least say that they will not go out on a limb to damage people’s lives … For me, it is all about bodily autonomy, because if we do not have that, we have nothing.”

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision and the shifting political climate, Freeman noted that the City of Somerville as well as Tufts will continue to provide support for those affected by anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. She emphasized the importance of making sure LGBTQ+ students know about the resources available to them at Tufts, such as support groups, trans care teams and medical and social transitions covered by Tufts Student Health Insurance. 

“[The LGBT Center at Tufts is] committed to showing that the LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith by centering anti-racism, equity, justice, and truth telling,” she wrote. “We are very fortunate that Somerville knows the value of gender affirming health care as it is wholeheartedly tied to reproductive justice and body autonomy.”