This week, Massachusetts is celebrating one year of full equality for our transgender neighbors, family and friends under state law.
Last year, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers passed and Governor Baker signed a law updating Massachusetts’ existing non-discrimination statutes to protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations—places like restaurants, retail shops and hospitals.
One year later, opponents of equality are working to overturn this law. Almost immediately after the law took effect on October 1, 2016, opponents of equality succeeded in collecting the small number of signatures required to put the law up for a public vote. That means a question requiring voters to affirm or repeal the law will appear on the 2018 general election ballot.
Transgender Bay Staters and other proponents of the law are working hard to ensure that happens, since prior to the law taking effect, the lack of explicit protections under state law was causing real harm: A 2013 survey found that 65% of transgender people living in Massachusetts had experienced this kind of discrimination.
“You do not know what it is like thinking that you can be arrested for going to the bathroom. This law has put my mind at ease. —Leea
Leea recalls the anxiety she used to experience when she was out in public before these protections were in place.
“You do not know what it is like thinking that you can be arrested for going to the bathroom. This law has put my mind at ease,” she explains. “I suffer from PTSD and going into a bathroom and worrying about being arrested only agitated that PTSD so this has made a huge difference in my life.
She does still worry though—the 2018 ballot initiative that could repeal these non-discrimination protections would send her and Leea back to living in fear.
“I would feel less safe. I would go out less,” she says. “With the present climate of LGBTQ hate groups, if we didn’t have any protections, that wouldn’t leave me a whole lot of places to go. It would leave me a very small existence.”
That’s why grassroots advocates and lawmakers who worked hard to pass the law last year are now gearing up to defend it.
That includes Rep. Sheila Harrington. Rep. Harrington is a Republican who voted against explicit public accommodations protections for transgender people in 2011 before voting in favor of last year’s bill. Rep. Harrington credits the stories she heard from transgender children with changing her mind.
“When I spoke five years ago I was wrong, wrong on a number of levels,” she testified during last year’s House vote. Her fellow lawmakers gave her a standing ovation. “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.”
Attorney General Maura Healey has also been a strong voice of support for the law. She enthusiastically supported its passage last year, an event that she says was “a milestone for fairness in our Commonwealth.”
Now, she says, transgender people and their families are counting on voters to uphold these protections at the ballot box in 2018.
“Transgender people are part of the fabric that makes Massachusetts a diverse and thriving place to live and work,” she says. “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.”
Many of Massachusetts’ top officials are mobilizing to protect the law—and grassroots advocates like Sabrina are mobilizing too.
“Having these protections in place make for a safer and more welcome community, for everyone, and help to open dialogue, learning and understanding.” —Sabrina
Sabrina is an LGBTQ ally, early childhood educator and primary caregiver for a transgender child. She says having these protections in place sends a very important message to all transgender people, especially children, that discrimination has no place in our state.
If the law is repealed in 2018, it worries her to think of the message that will send.
“Having these protections in place make for a safer and more welcome community, for everyone, and help to open dialogue, learning and understanding,” she says. “I feel proud—and safer—knowing that the state I was born and raised in has a non-discrimination law that fully protects transgender people.”
Last year, we activated this same coalition of community leaders and grassroots advocates to pass these protections—now, we need everyone working hard against the anti-transgender forces that would like to see them repealed.