The bad news for transgender residents of Massachusetts is that their rights are up for a vote next Tuesday, in the first statewide referendum on the issue. The good news is that they have many allies.
Question 3, going before voters, asks them whether to uphold a 2016 expansion of the state's transgender nondiscrimination law, assuring access to all public accommodations, including the restrooms and locker rooms of a trans person's choice. A coalition opposed to the law gathered enough petition signatures to put it before voters. A yes vote upholds it; a no vote is a vote to repeal it.
Repeal "is a horrifying prospect," Mimi Lemay, who has a transgender son, recently told the Human Rights Campaign's Equality magazine. "The civil rights of our transgender and nonbinary citizens in Massachusetts are at stake. If Massachusetts, one of the most progressive states in the union, falls, what happens to the rest of the country?"
But while it's still crucial to get out the vote, it looks like repeal is unlikely. A poll conducted the first week in October by The Boston Globe and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell found that 73 percent of respondents support keeping the law as is, 21 percent want to repeal it, and 6 percent are undecided. The percentage in favor of maintaining the law has been going up in polls conducted by various organizations throughout the year -- meaning the result will likely be very different from the one in Houston in 2015, where voters repealed an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance.
Even though it looks like the public isn't buying it, Keep MA Safe, the group that formed to advocate for repeal, is continuing to push the discredited "bathroom predator" narrative, which was key in the Houston repeal campaign and has been used by anti-transgender forces around the nation. "In one ad [from the group] a man peeps through the door of a bathroom stall at a teenage girl changing in a locker room," notes The Republican of Springfield, Mass. "In another, a mother describes a boy coming into a locker room to change with her daughter."
The ads are an obvious appeal to fear, but that fear is unfounded, as numerous studies have shown. For instance, a study by the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, has found no link between inclusive restroom policies and crime. And transgender people are often endangered when forced to use facilities that don't comport with their gender identity.
Many supporters of maintaining the law are making those points. And it's not just LGBTQ rights activists, but advocates for women's safety.
"The safety issues I think for transgender people are significant," Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, told The Republican. "The safety issues for the general population are nonexistent."
"In the two years since this became law, there's been no increase in public safety issues," Debra Robbin, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, told the paper. "There's no evidence that this law creates any problems." And privacy violations and restroom assault remain against the law, she noted.
Massachusetts has also seen many political leaders speaking out in favor of the inclusive law. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were among those attending a transgender rights rally at Boston City Hall this week, according to the Boston University News Service.
"Trans rights are human rights," Walsh said at the rally. "We need to make sure that people understand that there are human beings behind that question and our legislature supports it, because we don't want to go backwards but forward."
Markey told attendees he had voted early and in favor of maintaining the law. "Donald Trump is wrong. You cannot make America great again by making America hate again," Markey said. "Trans is about transcending hate. Discrimination has no place in Massachusetts."
Trump's campaign against transgender Americans, including the recent news of a federal government memo circulating that would basically deny the existence of transgender people, has motivated other politicians to speak out as well.
"It means the election -- the ballot initiative and election in November -- take on all that more importance," Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III recently told The Republican. "We see the federal government try to deny protections and rescind them, Massachusetts has the opportunity to take a step forward. ... I expect the people in Massachusetts are up for that, and I'll be working to make sure we win on Election Day."
While support from allies is great, of course, there's nothing quite like hearing from the people affected by the law. "To take this law away, it would affect my confidence going out into public. My security of knowing when I go to apply for a job or get a cup of coffee, I could be targeted for who I am," a transgender woman named Samantha said on the website for Freedom for All Massachusetts, the organization pushing for a yes vote. "It takes us back to the dark place we've worked to come out of. Having that legal thing taken away, it's going make people feel not supported or accepted, or our identities aren't real."
"I always feel comfortable in Boston," trans woman Jackie Rae told a reporter at the Boston rally. "It's scary if people perceive you as a threat or as someone who doesn't belong there. Massachusetts has always been a progressive state in transgender policy and the first state to allow same-sex marriage. It's really important to keep that as a state like a shiny example for the whole country. Voting yes on Question 3 is vital for maintaining that standard in Massachusetts."