The Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts (“AVPM”) surveyed Boston Mayoral finalists John Connolly and Marty Walsh on public safety issues of concern to the LGBT community. Both candidates have strong records of support for LGBT rights, but civil rights issues in law enforcement have received little attention on the campaign trail.
Founded as the Public Safety Committee of the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance in 1986, the AVPM has worked for decades in collaboration with the Violence Recovery Program of Fenway Health to build a partnership between the City’s LGBT community and the Boston Police Department (“BPD”). Cases of potential hate-motivated violence are now more likely to be reported to the police and handled with the priority demanded by the Massachusetts Hate Crimes Reporting Act, the Hate Crimes Penalties Act, and the law against forcible interference with legal rights.
Progress in fighting hate crimes against the LGBT community rests on specific steps which have cemented cooperation between LGBT anti-violence advocates and law enforcement. Since 1987, suspected anti-LGBT hate crimes cases have been assigned to the nationally recognized Civil Rights Unit (“CRU”) of the BPD (formerly the “Community Disorders Unit”) for investigation. CRU detectives have particular expertise in relevant areas like detection of bias indicators and culturally aware interactions with minority communities. Candidate Connolly has pledged to maintain optimal funding and staffing levels at the CRU to keep it effective. Candidate Walsh, who did not answer the AVPM questionnaire, has not addressed the future of the CRU.
The Boston Police Academy conducts the most comprehensive training for recruits and in-service officers in civil rights law enforcement and diversity awareness in the state, e.g. training in transgender awareness long before the anti-trans hate crime law took effect last year. Connolly has committed to continuing robust civil rights training in compliance with the Hate Crimes Reporting Act. Walsh’s position is unknown.
The LGBTQ Public Safety Coalition was initiated in 2009 to bring LGBT civil rights advocates together with command-level BPD officers and the CRU on a regular basis. Among the groups involved are the Fenway Violence Recovery Program, GLAD, the Mass. Transgender Political Coalition, and the AVPM. Connolly has pledged to continue the work of the coalition under his Administration.
For years the BPD has designated an officer to act as a liaison to the LGBT community, to facilitate communication and bring LGBT concerns to the attention of command staff and patrol officers. Liaison Javier Pagan has won praise for his dedicated efforts to bridge any divides between police and community. Connolly has said the BPD will continue to have an LGBT liaison under his Administration.
The landmark anti-bullying law passed by the Massachusetts legislature and signed by Governor Patrick in 2010 prescribes a range of counter-measures to stop harassment in schools: staff training, mandatory reporting, parental notification, effective interventions, referral to law enforcement where a crime is suspected, and balanced disciplinary consequences for students who engage in bullying. Yet because the law affords no private right of action by targets of bullying against schools remiss in enforcing the law, successful bullying prevention requires initiative from local officials.
Connolly committed to full enforcement of the anti-bullying law in the Boston Public Schools. Moreover, he would focus staff training efforts on the unique exposure groups like special needs children and LGBT youth have to bullying. He also supports amending the law to enumerate categories of bias (e.g. homophobia and transphobia ) which contribute to bullying.
Walsh did not respond to the questionnaire but did co-sponsor the anti-bullying law in the legislature. He supports teacher training on LGBTQ issues, for a full day each academic year.
Finally, so-called “reparative therapy” which seeks to change sexual orientation has been linked to depression and suicide by mental health professional associations. Legislation is pending on Beacon Hill to ban licensed therapists from employing this abusive practice on minors. Connolly supports the proposed ban.
The AVPM is a 501(c)(3)-recognized charitable organization and is making no endorsements in the Mayoral race. The mission of the AVPM is to lobby executive branch officials to take effective action against hate crimes and to assist LGBT victims of violence who are using the legal system to fight back against their attackers. For more information about the group, see our study of anti-trans violence at http://www.masstpc.org/pubs/3party/AVP-anti_trans_hate_crimes.pdf