The struggle for transgender rights isn't surprising

The Record

Last week, The Record published “Joe Loses Spot in Pack” about Joe Maldonado, an 8-year-old child who was kicked out of Cub Scout Pack 87 because he is transgender. After a month of his membership, the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts informed the Maldonado family that other parents complained about including a transgender boy in the pack.

The actions taken by the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts against Joe Maldonado are sad and unfair, but not surprising.  In recent years, we have seen the LGBT community make tremendous strides, especially in 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage. Transgender citizens, however, are still struggling in their own fight for equality.

When I was working on the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights several years ago, I learned that transgender youth face some of the harshest treatment from their peers, often because of fear or sheer ignorance. These children and adolescents merely want to live as their true selves without shame and out of hiding. They should be entitled to this right without societal justification.

In 2012, I introduced legislation to ensure that citizens who have undergone clinically appropriate sex change treatments, such as hormone therapy, may change their gender on their birth certificates. This bill serves as an important step for members of the transgender community to live authentically. This is a particularly critical issue for transgender youth, who are often not eligible for sex reassignment surgery until their later teen years.

Yet, while the legislation passed both the Assembly and the state Senate, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it twice, citing legal uncertainties and security concerns. I certainly would not find 8-year-old Joe Maldonado to be a security threat if he wants to change his birth certificate.  Unfortunately, Christie does not see it this way and has been able to block this common-sense records update.

This sort of thinking from the state’s highest-elected official grants the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts cover to get away with discrimination and segregation. If the governor can promote his backward way of thinking, so can the council.

The irony here is that in their haste to “protect” their organization, the Northern New Jersey Council leaders blatantly ignored the mission of the Boy Scouts of America: to teach their participants to have a keen respect for the basic rights of all people.

It is not the role of government to dictate an individual’s personal identity. It is incumbent, however, upon government, parents and community leaders, such as the Boy Scouts, to end the stigma against transgender individuals and promote tolerance. I commend school districts, such as Hackensack, that are implementing and drafting policies to protect transgender students.

I plan to bring these efforts to a statewide level. In addition, I am co-sponsoring a bill to include LGBT history in our public school curriculum because tolerance often begins with education. Therefore, I want to thank Joe Maldonado and his family for bravely educating our community and the state about the injustices and inequalities facing children like him in New Jersey.

The year is 2017, not 1917. Let’s remember that.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle is a Democrat representing the 37th Legislative District in Bergen County.