Massachusetts votes on transgender rights

This November, Massachusetts will be the first state in the U.S. to have transgender rights on their ballot. It’s a historic moment that may determine the future of trans rights in America.

In July 2016, Massachusetts passed Bill S.2407 — a transgender anti-discrimination act that gives protections to transgender individuals in public places such as restaurants, public bathrooms, and locker rooms. The bill passed with a bipartisan super majority in both chambers, and was supported by Governor Charlie Baker.

But not everyone was in support of the bill. Keep MA Safe is the main opposition campaign. Immediately following passage of the bill, supporters of Keep MA Safe gathered the minimum 32,375 signatures required to put the bill up for repeal on the November 2018 ballot.

At the core of the opposition campaign is the claim that these protections put women and children at risk. In 2016, Andrew Beckwith, then president of the Massachusetts Family Institute — a “non-partisan public policy organization” that is “dedicated to strengthening the family and affirming the Judeo-Christian values upon which it is based,” — said in a plea to local churches for support: “This is a concern to me as a father and a husband, because this is a threat to the privacy and safety of my wife and children, particularly my daughters.”

The Keep MA Safe campaign claims that “basic common sense is under attack” by eliminating restrictions on people based on gender. In one of their campaign videos, the campaign depicts a young girl confused and uncomfortable in a women’s restroom when she sees a man carrying a bag full of women’s clothing and applying lipstick in the bathroom mirror. The video ends with a scrolling list of alleged incidents in which men dressed as women were found committing crimes in women’s bathrooms.

Freedom for All Massachusetts is the coalition leading the support for the bill. Since the announcement that the bill would be at risk on the ballot, the coalition has been working on growing public awareness around what S.2407 really does.

According to Mason Dunn, executive director of the Mass Trans Political Coalition and co-chair for the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign, in the 17 states that have passed nondiscrimination protections in public places, there has been no increase in incidents that raise public safety concerns.

“There are anecdotal stories, but here in Massachusetts the anecdotal stories do not involve anybody who is transgender,” Dunn said in an interview with 88.9 WERS, contradicting the opposition’s claims. “And all of those stories actually show that people have been held accountable for any kind of crimes and none of them have been perpetrated by anybody who is actually transgender.”

Nearly 1,000 Massachusetts businesses, as well as local colleges and universities, labor unions, law enforcement officials, women and children advocacy groups, and all the professional sports teams in the state have expressed their support for the bill and its protections. But according to a recent Freedom for All Massachusetts poll, voters are nearly split 50/50 on whether to vote to keep or repeal the bill.

If Massachusetts repeals the bill, it may determine the fate of transgender rights on a national level. The state has often been looked to as a leader in LGBTQ rights, being the first state to pass gay marriage back in 2004. If it repeals S.2407 it will be the only state in New England to be without  transgender protections, and it will give opposition in other states support for the elimination of these protections as well.

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