Opinion » Guest Opinion

Mark your calendar for September 4

Wednesday Aug 29, 2018

Epic LGBTQ advocate needs your vote

by Gary Daffin, Arline Isaacson, Carl Sciortino

Rewind to Massachusetts, 1985: two gay men who were foster parents had the kids abruptly removed from their home. The Boston Globe had learned about them, published a story, and ignited a firestorm. A new, anti-gay policy was swiftly enacted. A Boston Globe editorial applauded the policy, claiming it provided "major benefits to children" by placing them with "normal" families.

How things have changed.

If the past 30 years of LGBTQ progress in Massachusetts were optioned as a Netflix series, Rep. Byron Rushing would be among the lead characters. When the first anti-gay vote took place about foster and adoptive parenting, we lost big. Only 50 out of 160 representatives voted with us. Rep. Byron Rushing was one of them.

Hit the fast-forward button.

Today, Massachusetts is the undisputed national leader on LGBTQ equality - and Byron has played an essential, irreplaceable role in making it so. Not just by voting with us. Not just by sponsoring bills and leading. But by year after year, firestorm after firestorm, pulling so many of his colleagues across the line to join us.

It would, in fact, take a Netflix series to cover all the stories, so we'll highlight just a few examples here. A small slice of Byron's life's work is enough to make our point.

You could bingewatch the story of the Gay & Lesbian Civil Rights Law, but who has the time? We tried and failed for nearly two decades. Back then, we could be fired from jobs, denied public accommodations, denied a mortgage, evicted from our homes, all legally. When Byron arrived in the Legislature, he became a sponsor of the bill and a change-maker. He met personally with his colleagues, listened to them, and persuaded them. He delivered stirring oratory that moved people. He singlehandedly delivered votes - and in 1989, the bill passed.

Massachusetts was first in the nation to protect people living with HIV. While other states were pursuing criminalization, Massachusetts ensured confidentiality, made it illegal to discriminate based on HIV status, and provided state funds for prevention and care. Byron was an indispensible leader on all of these. He has continued to be an effective partner to this day, using his vast experience with insurance law and regulation to pass a first-in-the-nation 2016 mandate that insurers cover treatment for HIV-related Lipodystrophy.

It would take at least a season, maybe two, but we'd like to watch equal marriage play out on Netflix. Before and after the historic court decision in 2004, we faced a barrage of "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) bills and constitutional amendments. It was an intense, 10-year battle. Byron was again a partner and key strategist, widely recognized as the most influential voice and persuader of his colleagues. It's one thing to vote the right way - and another to bring along all the votes it takes to win, especially on contentious subjects that will go on to change the world.

In 2008, we repealed the infamous "1913 Law" which prevented people from coming to Massachusetts to be married when their own states wouldn't recognize the marriage. (The law was originally enacted when interracial marriage was the issue and Massachusetts again was a leader.) Byron took on then-Gov. Mitt Romney who said he didn't want Massachusetts to be "the Las Vegas of gay marriage."

Today, the same people who tried so hard to repeal marriage equality are trying to enshrine discrimination against transgender citizens. Rep. Byron Rushing is an immovable obstacle to them. Byron cosponsored laws that banned anti-trans discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations. He was deeply engaged, negotiating details, persuading legislators to support the bill, and persuading leadership to take up the measures.

This November, we face a ballot question to repeal the transgender protection bill passed in 2016. We can't lose Byron's influence now.

On September 4, primary day, Byron faces a Democratic challenger. The two hold similar positions on things like the opioid epidemic, health care, housing, immigration. But there is a stunning difference between an unknown, freshman lawmaker and Byron's near-legendary experience and influence in our State House. While such a trade makes no sense at all, we are in a time when Democrats are attracted to "fresh faces" in local and national races. Sometimes this is a good thing. In this case, it could be tragic.

Could we really lose Byron? That's up to you.

Byron has stood with us through it all: Hate Crimes, the Student Civil Rights Bill, Anti-Bullying Laws, our Youth Commission which Gov. Romney tried to disband in 2006, the list goes on and on.

He has earned more than our support; he has won our gratitude and love. Please get to your polling place on September 4, and stand with our representative, Byron Rushing.