Transgender Bay Staters and allies across the Commonwealth are celebrating this week the one year anniversary of Massachusetts becoming the 18th state in the nation to explicitly protect transgender people from discrimination in public spaces.
Last spring and summer, after months of debate and grassroots advocacy, the Massachusetts Senate and House passed, with a bipartisan supermajority, legislation that would update the Commonwealth’s non-discrimination laws to ensure that transgender people in our state can’t be denied service in places of public accommodations, like doctor’s offices, restaurants, parks and public transportation.
That flurry of legislative activity culminated in Governor Charlie Baker officially signing the final bill—S2407—into law on July 8th, 2016.
The bill’s passage marked a significant evolution for many lawmakers, including Governor Baker, an evolution driven by transgender Bay Staters’ commitment to publicly sharing their personal stories of discrimination.
People will say they can’t support this bill because of their faith. I support this bill fully because of my faith, not in spite of my faith. … We must have the courage to do what we believe is right.” —Sheila Harrington (R-Groton)
Republican lawmaker Sheila Harrington, voted in favor of the bill after having voted against it in 2011, credited her change of heart to the stories she’d heard from transgender people and parents of transgender children.
“When I spoke five years ago I was wrong, wrong on a number of levels,” she testified during the House vote. “People will say they can’t support this bill because of their faith. I support this bill fully because of my faith, not in spite of my faith. … We must have the courage to do what we believe is right.”
After initially avoiding taking a stance on the legislation—and even campaigning against it during his first run for governor in 2010—Governor Baker announced in May of last year that he would sign the bill if passed. He said the compelling and moving stories he’d heard from transgender people and their loved ones are ultimately what changed his mind.
Governor Baker has also confirmed that he will vote to uphold the law in 2018. Mere days after these transgender non-discrimination protections took effect on October 1, 2016, opponents of the law succeeded in qualifying an initiative for the 2018 general election ballot that could potentially repeal it if passed.
“I’m proud to continue lending my voice and support to the important cause of upholding transgender equality under the law when voters go to the ballot in 2018.” —AG Maura Healey
Another champion of protecting transgender Bay Staters from discrimination, Attorney General Maura Healey, used her statement honoring this Saturday’s anniversary to encourage the law’s supporters to keep working to defend it.
“The victory in updating our nondiscrimination law to include full protections for transgender people was the product of nearly a decade’s hard work, led by transgender residents and their families. Transgender people are part of the fabric that makes Massachusetts a diverse and thriving place to live and work. I’m proud to continue lending my voice and support to the important cause of upholding transgender equality under the law when voters go to the ballot in 2018.”
AG Healey has been relentless and outspoken in her support for the law. Last year, she used her public profile to launch the #EveryoneWelcome social media campaign in support of transgender non-discrimination. The campaign featured short videos of celebrities and everyday Bay Staters calling for legislators to take action.
Debra J. Robbin, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., Massachusetts’ only statewide sexual and domestic violence, non-profit, advocacy, membership organization, also made a point this week of celebrating the law by taking to task opponents’ most dangerous and erroneous arguments.
A common refrain from the law’s opponents in more than six months since the law has been in effect is that there will be a negative effect on public safety. But during this time there has been no uptick in safety concerns regarding restroom use. In fact, more than a dozen groups across Massachusetts that work to ensure safety and privacy have explicitly stated that they support the law. Jane Doe Inc. is one of them.
“Upholding Massachusetts’ transgender nondiscrimination law will help bring us one step closer to a world where transgender people can lead fulfilling lives free of violence and inequality.” —Debra J. Robbin, executive director of Jane Doe Inc.
“Transgender people face disproportionately high rates of violence, harassment, and discrimination—even here in Massachusetts,” Robbin says. In fact, this law is a boon to public safety. “#TransLawMA is essential to ensuring that transgender people do not face discrimination in our Commonwealth when seeking to access basic public accommodations such as stores, restaurants, and hospitals. Upholding Massachusetts’ transgender nondiscrimination law will help bring us one step closer to a world where transgender people can lead fulfilling lives free of violence and inequality.”
Last year’s victory was the culmination of a decade-long campaign to finally solidifying these protections into state law, and thereby ensure that transgender people are fully protected no matter where they live in our Commonwealth.
And after all that work—the coalitions we built with lawmakers, the statewide advocacy groups we brought on board, and the grassroots juggernaut we built with thousands of individual Bay Staters—we are definitely not going to sit by and watch a small-but-vocal group roll back the clock on equality in Massachusetts.
Starting now, we have to work even harder to uphold this law than we did to pass it. Say that you’re with us by pledging to uphold Massachusetts’ non-discrimination law protecting transgender people at the ballot box in 2018.