Identity

A Massachusetts Vote Could Threaten Trans Rights Everywhere

On November 6, Massachusetts will vote on a repeal of protections for transgender people— the first statewide vote of its kind.
October 11, 2018, 4:54pm
Photo by Sean Locke via Stocksy.

Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, I had a loving family, an amazing public school district, and access to resources that opened countless doors for me to thrive in this world.

Even still, I spent much of my childhood hurting. I was queer and trans and I didn’t yet know how to live as my authentic self. It was profoundly difficult to imagine a future for myself in this world, in large part because I didn’t see other people like me in it.

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Today, trans people are much more visible in media and public life than when I was young. Yet increased visibility has come with a toll. Vicious attacks on our communities are threatening trans people’s survival. Across the country, trans people experience staggering rates of discrimination and violence in all facets of life. We are kicked out of our homes, denied shelter, fired from employment, arrested while walking down the street, and murdered by strangers and partners just for being trans. The cycles of discrimination and violence are so deadly that the reported life expectancy for trans women of color is 35 years old.

On top of that, lawmakers in many states continue to propose bills, like so-called “bathroom bills,” that aim to expel trans people from public life by situating our bodies as threats to others and barring us from restrooms that match who we are.

Thankfully, other states have acted to expand explicit legal protections for LGBTQ people. This is what Massachusetts did in 2011, when the state banned discrimination based on gender identity and expression in credit, employment, and housing. However, lawmakers cut public accommodations out of the bill in order to garner the necessary votes, which meant trans people remained extremely vulnerable to discrimination in hospitals, restaurants, retail stores, and other public places.

Five years later, in 2016, Massachusetts finally passed a stand-alone bill prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression in public accommodations. The bill passed with a bipartisan supermajority and was signed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker. It was the result of decades of work by trans people and our allies.

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But opponents of trans people (those seeking to eradicate us from public life are not just opposed to our legal rights but to our very existence), continued their fight against us. The idea that trans people would be protected under law was unacceptable, and they successfully placed a repeal of the public accommodations law on the ballot for November 2018. It will be the first statewide vote of its kind – to repeal legal protections for trans people.

On November 6, Massachusetts voters will be voting not just on trans rights, but on trans lives. The bill is cruel and dangerous. The campaign itself has already proven to be nasty: Ads are running online and across the state suggesting that our very existence is predatory or dangerous. These ads suggest that the safety of women and children is at risk if trans people are protected under law—even as study after study has shown that there is absolutely no risk to public safety from including trans people in public life and prohibiting discrimination against us.

The goal of these ads is to spread misinformation, to invoke fear, to suggest that women who are trans are really men, to equate trans existence with deviance.

In one ad with ominous music, a man in a hoodie enters a woman’s locker room as a woman in voiceover claims that “any man who says he is a woman” can enter women’s spaces and put them at risk of harm. The ad also falsely claims that anyone trying to stop “sex offenders” from entering women’s spaces can go to jail.

The goal of these ads is to spread misinformation, to invoke fear, to suggest that women who are trans are really men, to equate trans existence with deviance.

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Don’t let them. The ad, which is entirely inaccurate, is designed to strip protections from trans people and to cultivate fear of our bodies. The long-term effect of this vote and this rhetoric will be devastating for our community.

It is easy to lose sight of the local fights while the Trump administration launches new attacks every day. But if we lose in Massachusetts, it will send a signal to opponents across the country that we are easy, undefended targets. And if we stay complacent and silent, we are telling trans people that they don’t matter.

During times like this, I think about my former childhood self—alone and navigating the world with a sense of despair. I want to go back in time to hug them and tell them it will be okay in the end.

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But will it be okay? Only if we step up and defend our trans family. There is no more critical moment on the horizon for trans people than the November vote in Massachusetts.

Rally your friends, your family, sound the alarm and tell people in Massachusetts to vote #YesOn3.