On Nov. 6, the LGBTQ movement will face one of the single biggest threats to equality in recent memory. Anti-transgender activists in Massachusetts have secured the country’s first statewide popular vote on an LGBTQ nondiscrimination law. The legislation passed with a bipartisan supermajority in 2016 and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, providing protections for transgender people from discrimination in public places like restaurants, stores and hospitals. The activists seeking repeal of this law have publicly stated that, if successful, they will seek to roll back nondiscrimination protections for the entire LGBTQ community in states nationwide. The outcome of this vote could fuel our opponents’ attacks for years to come, and the national stakes for our community could not be higher.
Yes, it’s “blue” Massachusetts. Yes, 2018 may bring a “blue wave.” But two recent polls show this is a 50/50 fight – and that’s before repeal proponents have begun airing their ugly, misleading advertisements. We know voters across the political spectrum are vulnerable to our opponents’ scare tactics. We can take nothing for granted, and we have to work to earn every vote. That’s why Freedom for All Americans has been on the ground with Freedom for All Massachusetts – now the Yes on 3 campaign – since early 2017 going door-to-door talking with voters about what it means to be transgender and what nondiscrimination laws do and don’t do. Massachusetts led the country on marriage equality and it must serve as a firewall to stop the spread of discrimination.
This is not a challenge our movement asked for, but we can seize it as an opportunity. There’s no clearer way to demonstrate growth in public support for nondiscrimination protections than to win a statewide popular vote. The Yes On 3 campaign to uphold Massachusetts’ transgender protections is laser-focused on leveraging lessons learned from previous campaigns, introducing voters to transgender people, addressing concerns about safety and restrooms head on, and connecting the aspirations of our transgender friends and neighbors to the values we all share – freedom, liberty, kindness, and making sure everyone has a fair shot at success.
The truth is, anti-LGBTQ activists are in a race against the clock to capitalize on the fact that too few Americans yet personally know a transgender person. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that nearly nine in ten (87%) U.S. adults know someone who is gay or lesbian — one of the most important factors that determines whether a person supports marriage equality. In the same survey, only 3 in 10 (30%) said they know someone who is transgender. Opponents of rights for the LGBTQ community know that transgender equality is a relatively new issue for many people. They use protections for transgender people as a wedge issue to rollback existing protections for the entire LGBTQ community and to prevent passage of new protections. Winning this fight in Massachusetts opens the door to winning the full equality we seek for all LGBTQ Americans.
Just as we saw with efforts to win marriage equality, everyday Americans from all political backgrounds are moved to support transgender nondiscrimination measures by opportunities to become more familiar with transgender people. Massachusetts Republican Rep. Sheila Harrington summed this up best when she shared her personal journey from opposing to supporting transgender protections in a speech during the 2016 legislative vote stating: “I have had the opportunity to listen again and for many hours, to transgender people and their loved ones who have eloquently and courageously shared their stories and experiences. I have been well aware of the arguments made against transgender rights, because I once made them myself. But I also know now that they are wrong.”
In the current landscape of myths and lies about who transgender people are, our wins can not be taken for granted. And what we have learned from people like Rep. Harrington in states across the country is that logic and reason aren’t always enough to change minds on this issue. 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.
With hard work and a smart strategy, I know that when Massachusetts voters are asked whether to continue treating their friends, family members, and and neighbors with dignity and respect, they will vote Yes on 3. And when they do, our movement will be one step closer to demonstrating that America is ready for nondiscrimination protections nationwide. Volunteers are walking door-to-door to talk to Massachusetts voters about an America we all believe in – a place where all people have the opportunity to achieve their American dream, and to do so without fear of discrimination. We know that voters simply need the opportunity to get to know their transgender neighbors, and that’s why we need all hands on deck.
If you haven’t yet joined Yes on 3 in seizing this historic opportunity, now is the time. Go to www.FreedomMA.org to learn how you can phone bank from any zip code, take a “volunteer vacation” to Massachusetts to join our door-to-door canvassing efforts, and contribute financially.
Kasey Suffredini is the president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans and co-chair of the Yes on 3 campaign.