The Nov. 6 election will be monumentally consequential for LGBTQ people. Voters not only will decide who will control the House of Representatives and the Senate and who will hold numerous state and local government offices; they also will decide whether Massachusetts will continue to have a state law that protects transgender people against discrimination in public places, such as restaurants, stores, and doctors’ offices.
This is the first time a law prohibiting gender identity discrimination is being put to a statewide vote. It should be the last time as well. For that to happen, however, LGBTQ people need to do all we can to support the Yes on 3 campaign.
There are many reasons we should care about this ballot measure. One is that what happens in Massachusetts this November could lead to significant rollbacks in the rights of LGBTQ people nationwide.
Massachusetts has long been a leader in LGBTQ rights. It was the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. It was the second (after Wisconsin) to bar sexual orientation discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. If our opposition can persuade voters to overturn a nondiscrimination statute protecting transgender people in a place like Massachusetts, it will be a perilous harbinger for similar laws in other states. Anti-LGBTQ forces will be emboldened to go after gender identity and sexual orientation protections elsewhere, and there’s no reason why California won’t be target number two.
Indeed, the head of the Massachusetts Family Institute explicitly told Politico that November’s Massachusetts vote is a bellwether that will determine where they seek to repeal LGBTQ protections next. On the other hand, if Massachusetts voters uphold these protections, it will help pave the way to enacting explicit sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections nationwide, including at the federal level.
What has happened in Massachusetts has had repercussions before. In 1992, Massachusetts’ then-governor, Republican William Weld, appointed a Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. That commission recommended that schools protect students by, among other things, including gay content in school curricula and libraries. Anti-LGBTQ forces unsuccessfully sued to challenge that. One couple who joined the suit objected that their son was read a story at school about two princes who fell in love with one another. When California voters were considering Proposition 8, which sought to overturn marriage equality, Prop. 8 proponents brought that couple to California for a statewide bus tour to “prove” that allowing same-sex couples to marry would lead to same-sex marriage being taught in California’s schools (even though that unsuccessful lawsuit long predated Massachusetts allowing same-sex couples to marry). We’ve thus seen it already: What happens in Massachusetts doesn’t stay there.
Our community needs to remember Prop. 8’s subsequent passage just 10 years ago and what it felt like to have the state’s voters take back a right we had just won. The message of rejection by a majority of the electorate was heartbreaking. We can’t let a setback like that happen again, even on the other side of the country.
It was transgender people who led the Stonewall rebellion. LGB people and T people also share the same opponents. Those opponents misunderstand, fear, and dislike lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and transgender people for very similar reasons—because we don’t conform to their gender stereotypes. Whether they think men should only be with women, women should only be with men, or people should forever identify as they were identified at birth, it is a very narrow definition of what kind of men and women are acceptable that is the base of all anti-LGBTQ bias.
Indeed, laws like the one now under attack in Massachusetts don’t only protect transgender people; they protect all people discriminated against because they are perceived as gender non-conforming.
A study released last week by the UCLA-affiliated Williams Institute think tank proved that Massachusetts localities that enacted gender identity nondiscrimination protections prior to the state nondiscrimination law actually had fewer privacy and safety criminal incidents in restrooms and changing rooms than similar localities in the state that did not have such protections. There’s little doubt that anti-LGBTQ forces nonetheless will continue to use scare tactics, falsely asserting that legally protecting transgender people in public places endangers women and children in restrooms and locker rooms — just like they falsely asserted that letting same-sex couples marry would lead to the destruction of marriage.
If lies and scapegoating of members of our community can prevail in one state, those tactics will spread. We can’t afford a flashback to the Prop. 8 election. Go to freedommassachusetts.org to learn how to help.
Jon Davidson is chief counsel for Freedom for All Americans.