A group of 25 transgender activists stood and turned their backs on Vermont Gov. James Douglas as he addressed a conference “Creating a Welcoming Community” at St. Michael’s College late last week.
The protesters objected to Douglas’ recent veto of a bill barring discrimination against people based on their transgender identity. As the governor began his 15-minute address, the group stood, turned to face the rear of the auditorium and remained standing until he finished.
Another group of activists stood outside the building holding signs that read, “1st Governor to Decrease Human Rights,” and “Douglas the Discriminator.” The protest didn’t seem to faze Douglas, who merely noted in his speech that dissent is “part of the constitutional process.”
Douglas was delivering the closing remarks at the daylong event, which drew 250 social workers, educators and community activists from around Vermont. They gathered to celebrate Vermont’s increasingly diverse population, and to strategize how to make newcomers — particularly refugees and immigrants — feel at home.
Douglas spoke about valuing diversity and noted that Vermont was the first state in the nation to reject slavery. “Ending discrimination,” he said, “reflects the state’s core values.”
But transgender activists and their allies said the governor’s appearance at the event was ironic and insulting. “He just rejected civil rights legislation that would have ended discrimination,” said Jes Kraus, a transgendered man who took part in the protest.
Kraus was one of 10 TransAction members registered for the conference. Before the governor’s address, they handed out lime green flyers asking other participants to join them.
Dana Hard was one of the ones who did. Hard, who works in the University of Vermont’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, said she voted for Douglas. “I wish I could take my vote back,” she said.
Hard noted that eight other states, as well as UVM’s board of trustees, have approved laws similar to the one the Republican governor vetoed.
After leaving the stage, Douglas said he was grateful for the protesters’ silence. “They didn’t disrupt me,” he said. “They gave me an opportunity to make my remarks. I appreciate that.”
He added that he is willing to revisit the legislation and pass something “narrower in scope” than the bill he vetoed.
— Associated Press
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