The MCSW has been collaborating with people and organizations across the Commonwealth to gather research and data on issues impacting LGBTQ+ women on topics, including but not limited to parentage, economic justice and forms of violence. Read more to learn more about the history behind this report, the crucial data we uncovered, and the policy recommendations we suggest ensuring that Massachusetts remains a safe haven for the LGBTQ community.
Here at the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women (MSCW), we know that our advocacy on behalf of all women and girls of the Commonwealth is only as good as the data and stories we hear from those closest to the issues impacting our lives. This is all the more true when we hope to hear from women and girls holding additional marginalized identities.
The MCSW was created to advance women and girls toward full equity in all areas of life and to promote rights and opportunities for all women and girls, and the Commission’s mission is to provide a permanent, effective voice for women and girls across Massachusetts. In order to achieve this mission, the Commission recognizes that the forces that prevent that full equity, such as sexism and discrimination, go hand in hand with other forces of oppression, such as homophobia and transphobia.
In May 2021, the Boston Community was rocked by the loss of activist and organizer Jahaira DeAlto, a transgender woman who dedicated her life to the liberation of transgender people and all survivors of domestic and sexual violence. As the Commission mourned Ms. DeAlto and celebrated her life’s work, the Commission again recommitted to its work to uplift the transgender and LGBTQ community. We released a statement of solidarity after this tragedy in which we committed to stepping up our partnership with, and outreach to, the trans community and trans-serving organizations and commit the Commission to better serving trans women and girls and to work in solidarity with the larger transgender community.
In the two years since Ms. DeAlto’s tragic passing, the legal, social, and political climate for LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, has become highly charged. Legislation across the country aimed at preventing transgender people’s access to healthcare, public accommodations, and sports has proliferated, along with “Don’t Say Gay” laws and book bans targeting LGBTQ stories and expression. Under these increasingly alarming conditions, it is especially important for the MCSW to live up to its commitment to uplift the voices of women and girls within the LGBTQ Community to report on their status and to make policy recommendations to advance this status.
To that end, the Commission committed more than a year of diligent research and collaboration to conduct primary data collection in order to write the enclosed report: 2023 Report on the Status of LGBTQ+ Individuals and Families in Massachusetts & Related Policy Implications. Only by standing together and raising our voices can we identify the issues impacting the health and wellness of our most vulnerable communities and ensure that we have the information and tools necessary to make effective and long-lasting policy change.
MCSW state and regional commissioners and staff have worked alongside community organizations to host a series of listening sessions called Community Conversations, received responses on the concerns and experience survey from respondents across the Commonwealth, and worked alongside our report author, Kaitie Chakoian, PhD Candidate and Shalaya West, MCSW’s Program & Research Director to compile this crucial report.
The data is stark.
LGBTQ+ individuals are currently experiencing alarming rates of both interpersonal and structural violence in the U.S. Over the past two years, hundreds of laws have been proposed, and dozens passed, limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ people in their access to health care, public accommodations, sports competition, self-expression, and reading and educational materials.
Under these increasingly alarming conditions, it is especially important for the MCSW to live up to its commitment to uplift the voices of women and girls within the LGBTQ Community to report on their status and to make policy recommendations to advance this status.
It is not enough to reduce an entire population to mere statistics – we must take what we’ve learned, and act. Together, we can chart a path forward, including through advocacy for needed legislative and policy reforms, to ensure that Massachusetts remains a safe haven for the LGBTQ community, and all of us, to live our lives as we see fit and to ensure basic human rights and the full enjoyment of life for all women and girls throughout their lives.
Dr. Sarah Glenn Smith, MCSW Chairwoman (left)
MCSW State Commissioner Rebecca Bact (right)
MCSW Consultant and LGBTQ+ Report Author: Kaitie Chakoian (above) grew up in Wilmington, MA. She moved to Boston in 2006 and stayed for nearly a decade.
Now Kaitie lives on Long Island in NY. She studied psychology and social justice at Simmons College, earned a Master of Education (M.Ed) from Northeastern University, and is currently a doctoral candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
Kaitie has spent her career supporting folks impacted by gender-based violence and brings a wealth of experience working with volunteers and managing research and evaluation projects to that work. She currently volunteers with a social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, BDSM, polyamorous, and queer communities.
Kaitie is also completing her dissertation on the experiences of college sexual assault survivors navigating the education, healthcare, and criminal-legal systems in the aftermath of violence. Kaitie has a wonderful rescue mutt named Neville Longtail who she adores hiking with.
MCSW’s Program and Research Director Shalaya West, MPP, spearheaded efforts to produce this crucial research. As the PRD, West supports and develops diverse and wide-range opportunities to gather data on the status, challenges, and needs of women and girls in the Commonwealth.
Shalaya is a Dorchester, MA native, advocate and leader. She knows first-hand the value of empowerment programming for youth through her 15-years of experience with supporting students in higher education and youth-serving organizations. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with a Bachelor’s in English focusing on Writing, Rhetoric and Communications and completed her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Simmons University.
Shalaya has since held various roles in youth development, higher education, and the Boston Community with GRLZradio, the Boston Public Health Commission, MIT’s Violence Prevention Program, Simmons University and recently served the Program Director for Girls’ LEAP Self-Defense. She is passionate about education, violence prevention, youth empowerment, research & evaluation, and entrepreneurship.