GLBT Commission Draws Local Supporters

Cambridge residents turned out in large numbers to celebrate the current state of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender relations in the city and to advocate for further progress at a town hall meeting last night.

Community members gathered at the Cambridge City Hall to provide recommendations to a GLBT Commission that was formed in February 2004 by the Cambridge City Council. The 15-member committee is responsible for monitoring the city’s policies and practices with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

A third of the meeting was devoted to group discussions. Participants were asked to respond to questions about how Cambridge could further integrate GLBT awareness into education and city’s social and religious scenes.

“We should have some piece of curriculum in the K-8 education that talks about GLBT issues, maybe more teacher training,” said one woman who has a daughter in high school with her partner.

Many of the suggestions centered around a desire to improve the perception of homosexuals in the city and to increase awareness of gay rights. Several group members suggested incorporating GLBT-friendly books into school reading lists, renovating gay dance bars and clubs, and advocating for GLBT residents who experience discrimination in health care.

“It’s interesting to hear about this lack of visibility,” Sarah P. Nasser, a lesbian MIT graduate student who attended the meeting out of personal and academic interest. “There are complaints everywhere, even in such a safe community as Cambridge.”

The meeting opened with remarks from Mayor E. Denise Simmons and her chief of staff, Jeff Walker. Simmons is the nation’s first black lesbian female mayor. Former Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72, who attended last night’s meeting, is also the first openly gay black mayor in the country.

Both Simmons and Walker praised Cambridge as one of the most liberal and welcoming places in the world, but added that the city is always seeking to improve.

Simmons said that she has always turned to town hall meetings as a way to reach out to the community, specifically about issues that pertain to GLBT residents.

“Cambridge is a city that rolls out the red carpet and doesn’t roll it back,” Simmons said. “We’re in great shape, but that doesn’t mean there are a lot of things to be done.”

—Staff writer Shan Wang can be reached at wang38@fas.harvard.edu