Some Democrats want to add panel seats based on sexual ID

By Jim O’Sullivan
State House News Service / April 23, 2010

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Democratic State Committee members are pushing for a party convention vote creating seats on the committee for two bisexual and two transgender members, raising a social issue that roiled last Saturday’s Republican convention and worrying some Democrats who want to focus the party’s message on the economy.

The change, for now the sole issue vote scheduled for the June convention, would add bisexual and transgender people to the list of requisite “add on’’ seats, giving both categories the same guaranteed number as military veterans and each state Senate district under the charter. The charter and bylaws also call for gay, lesbian, elderly, youth, and ethnic minority delegates.

Pushed by the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, the proposal comes as a transgender rights bill has emerged as hot-button issue on Beacon Hill and in the governor’s race. Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker was pushed onto the defensive Saturday, peppered with questions about why he circulated a flier announcing his opposition to what his campaign called “the bathroom bill.’’

Some Democratic legislators criticized the proposal to rewrite party rules as divisive.

“I think this is a good issue; I’m not sure this is the year for it,’’ said Representative Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat. “We need to be focusing on jobs and the economy.’’

Story added that she was “hoping very much that by the end of the session we will pass the transgender bill.’’

“The leadership of the state Democratic Party has lost sight of what matters to working men and women, and as important as transgender rights are, bisexual rights are, what really matters today are jobs, the economy, and putting people back to work,’’ said state Senator Steven Baddour, a Methuen Democrat and frequent critic of party leadership.

“We shouldn’t be putting stories like this out there.’’

Eric Turner, state party treasurer and a member of Governor Deval Patrick’s transition team, pushed the change at a March charter committee meeting, and it came before the full committee last week at a Waltham meeting. Party officials said the measure provoked no opposition in Waltham.

“I haven’t heard anything from anybody that they were opposed to it,’’ said party executive director Stacey Monahan.

Patrick is navigating precarious electoral terrain, dealing with two challenges from the right in Baker and state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who is running as an independent, and a pair from the left in Democratic rival Grace Ross and Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein.

The governor has been an advocate of sexual identity policies, helping to defeat an effort to end gay marriage in Massachusetts and backing the transgender rights bill.

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