HRC Blog

Salem, Massachusetts is Still Making History

Post submitted by Kristian Hoysradt, Political Co-Chair for the Human Rights Campaign Boston Steering Committee.

Photo: Mayor Kim Driscoll signs non-discrimination ordinance (photo credit: Social Palates)

Last week, one of the nation’s oldest communities, best known for a tragic episode of discrimination and persecution with the witch trials of 1692, took the historic step of establishing a transgender-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance.

On March 3rd, the City of Salem, Massachusetts became the fifth community in the Commonwealth and the first on the North Shore of Boston to extend protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression in the matter of public accommodations. The eleven-member Salem City Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance submitted by Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, a straight ally, who in turn proudly signed the new law during a ceremony at Salem City Hall – the nation’s second oldest functioning City Hall.

“Salem is a City that welcomes all people who visit, live and work in our community – no matter who they are, where they are from, or who they are perceived to be,” said Mayor Driscoll. “There are no second-class citizens in Salem. We not only embrace diversity, we champion it.”

In addition to volunteering as the Political Co-Chair for the Human Rights Campaign Boston Steering Committee, I serve as Mayor Driscoll’s Director of Constituent Services and Special Projects in Salem. I also fulfill the role of Mayor’s liaison to the LGBT community and the Salem No Place for Hate Committee (NPFH) – our City’s diversity committee.

As a member of NPFH, I brought HRC’s Municipal Equality Index to the Committee’s attention last spring so we could examine Salem’s LGBT-friendly policies and practices according to the MEI criteria. We approached Mayor Driscoll and she gave the go-ahead for NPFH to perform an initial MEI assessment, during which we found that Salem could improve in several areas.  

Since then, the Mayor has designated official LGBT Community Liaisons in both the Mayor’s Office and Police Department. Additionally, the MEI is what led NPFH to recommend Mayor Driscoll’s introduction of the non-discrimination ordinance.  

During the Salem City Council committee hearing, NPFH rallied dozens of community leaders, organizations and residents to testify in support of the ordinance. From for-profits to non-profits, public commissions to private groups, state legislators to everyday residents, community support spanned races, faiths, and generations. The Council’s newly elected LGBT member, David Eppley, spoke in strong support right alongside the Council’s most senior member, Joseph O’Keefe Sr., who just happens to be an 81-year old Republican and proud supporter of the LGBT community.

“The fact that I played a very small part in Salem’s long and storied past by making our City a more inclusive and welcoming place for all, truly gives me chills,” said Councillor Eppley. “322 years after the Salem witch trials, we have thankfully moved beyond the hysteria and embraced individuals from all walks of life.”

 

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