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Lessons from the Monumental Massachusetts Trans Victory

Laverne Cox with special guests in support of Yes on 3 in Boston.
Laverne Cox with special guests in support of Yes on 3 in Boston.

The Bay State resoundingly rejected discrimination against transgender people. Here's how we can keep the momentum going.

The airwaves are full of pundits talking about the implications of this week's midterm elections. For LGBTQ Americans, the biggest story of the night was in Massachusetts.

In a seismic victory for our movement, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly affirmed that transgender people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by upholding nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in public places. The tactics we tested, the lessons we learned, the momentum we built, and the message we sent will extend far beyond Massachusetts. We ran a heart-forward campaign powered by human connection that introduced voters to transgender people, aggressively debunked opponents' scare tactics, and built an unprecedented coalition that reflects the stunning depth of support for transgender equality.

So now the question is: Where do we go from here?

In a time of intense division, conversations about LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections are uniting Americans from all walks of life. But because the Trump administration is advancing a discriminatory agenda that is so out-of-step with mainstream American values, the need for a comprehensive federal law is clearer now than ever before. Moving forward, our team at Freedom for All Americans will use our battle-tested playbook to build proactive support for nondiscrimination protections across the country. Making progress in state legislatures is one of the most important ways we can set the stage for a federal nondiscrimination law. By moving the ball forward in states like Virginia, Ohio, and Florida, we can create the momentum we need to secure lasting liberty for the LGBTQ community through passage of federal nondiscrimination protections.

I serve as CEO of Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign dedicated to securing full nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ Americans. Over the past three years since our organization was founded, our team invested deeply in passing and then defending these protections. I've worked on transgender rights across the country for over two decades, and I've never seen such a powerful campaign effort to introduce folks to their transgender neighbors. Defending the rights of transgender Bay Staters was not a challenge our movement asked for, but we did everything we could to seize it as an opportunity.

The Yes on 3 campaign was positive, grounded in facts, and propelled by human connection. Rather than referring to Question 3 as the "bathroom bill," we educated media about the impact of the language they use and the wide scope of public accommodations protections. Our media strategy centered transgender youth and their parents, underscoring the shared humanity of transgender people and the people who love us. We ran an aggressive field strategy that encouraged Massachusetts voters to get to know their transgender neighbors. By the time the polls closed, the campaign had over 100,000 conversations with voters, ranging from knocking on doors to talk about transgender equality to helping supporters make a plan to vote over the phone. We invested deeply in connecting with Massachusetts voters from all walks of life, and that investment paid off.

We did not shy away from talking about safety in restrooms and locker rooms because those spaces matter, even though we know these protections are about so much more. Volunteers were not only trained to counter myths about restrooms -- they were trained to show voters our opponents' campaign ads and walk voters through their discomfort and fear. While counterintuitive, this innovative tactic is proven to build familiarity with transgender people. It's crucial to remember that good-hearted people who don't have transgender people in their lives can be swayed by our opponents' scare tactics, especially in this #MeToo moment when we all take seriously the threat of sexual violence. By showing voters our opponents' messages, our campaign gave voters the opportunity to voice their concerns while reassuring them that protecting transgender people from discrimination makes us all safer without putting anyone in harm's way.

As our nation's politics become increasingly polarized, it is important to remember what is made possible through human connection. Democrat Attorney General Maura Healey championed Massachusetts's bipartisan nondiscrimination bill from the very beginning, and Republican Governor Charlie Baker gave a personal donation to the Yes On 3 campaign two years after signing the measure into law. And in New Hampshire, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sailed to re-election after helping pass nondiscrimination protections for transgender Granite Staters earlier this year.

Republican elected officials can do the right thing without political cost, and their examples give us powerful momentum as we continue building bipartisan support at the state and federal level. We will continue to build bridges with Americans from all walks of life and elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

On the campaign trail, voters often cited personal relationships with transgender people as the reason they were voting Yes on 3. Folks talked about their coworkers, their kids' friends, distant cousins, and close friends who are transgender. Our community's visibility was key to our success -- we ran a campaign powered and led by transgender folks, including the Yes On 3 Campaign co-chairs and half of our Executive Committee. We amplified stories from communities of color, diverse parts of the state, and non-binary people to show voters that this law impacts everyone. It is undeniable that the visibility of the transgender community tipped the scales in our favor. We know that when transgender people and our loved ones tell their stories, we win. As we strategize with our partners in battleground states, we'll continue building successful campaigns that center transgender people and the voices of those most impacted by these laws -- including the full diversity of the LGBTQ community.

This victory in Massachusetts proved that Americans reject the politics of division. We shattered broken stereotypes of what it means to be transgender, lifted the veil on the opposition's fear-mongering, and proved that protecting transgender people has no correlation with increased criminal activity. We proved the opposite, in fact -- that we all thrive when each of us is treated with dignity and respect. It's when Americans realize that transgender people are their friends, family members, and neighbors, working alongside them and sharing similar dreams to build a good life for themselves and their families, that minds are changed and hearts are won. It's clear that transgender equality is not the wedge issue it once was. Now is the time for a renewed push for more comprehensive nondiscrimination laws. Just as Massachusetts made national history this week, we can bring the tactics that worked here and make history in states across the country. We won't stop until all Americans are free to live their lives without the fear of discrimination in the communities they call home.

MASEN DAVIS is the chief executive officer at Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign to secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections nationwide. Masen is a seasoned strategist who has spent the last two decades leading efforts to advance equality for LGBTQ Americans at the state, national, and global levels.

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