On Nov. 6, Massachusetts voters will take to the polls to decide one of the most salient civil rights questions of the 21st century: whether or not to protect the rights and safety of the state’s transgender residents in public spaces. While the question will be decided on a statewide election ballot, its ramifications have the potential to stretch far beyond the boundaries of the Bay State. In order to protect the civil rights of transgender and nonbinary individuals on Harvard’s campus, in Massachusetts, and across the country, it is vital that students and Massachusetts residents show up on election day and vote “Yes” on ballot Question 3.
Until recently, protections for trans and nonbinary residents were settled law in Massachusetts. The state legislature first prohibited discrimination against individuals on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations in 2016, passing a bill protecting trans and nonbinary individuals’ access to spaces including public bathrooms, locker rooms, hotels, and restaurants. The bill, which passed with almost 90 percent support in the state senate and over 75 percent support in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, was signed into law by Republican Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 that July. The 2018 statewide ballot referendum Question 3 has put upholding or repealing this piece of civil rights legislation in the hands of the residents of the Commonwealth.
The efforts to challenge and repeal these protections through popular vote have not been motivated by Massachusetts residents at large, but rather by the calculated efforts of a Judeo-Christian organization called the Massachusetts Family Institute and the allied initiative “Keep MA Safe.” Keep MA Safe, which receives funding from MFI as well as other private donors, has centered its opposition to the anti-discrimination law around unfounded and irresponsible claims that the legislation allows people (namely sex offenders) to enter bathrooms and changing rooms in order to attack women and children on the pretense of gender identity. Assault and harassment, regardless of the spaces they occur in, are illegal in the state of Massachusetts and the anti-discrimination law has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
The Keep MA Safe website employs tactics of bias and misinformation online and in video attempting to convince Massachusetts residents to vote against civil rights protections based on gender identity. The website attempts to scare voters using “Examples of Privacy Violations,” more accurately described as unrelated news reports on men and women peeking over bathroom stalls or in dressing rooms which in no way are connected to, nor are shown to have been impacted by, anti-discrimination laws like that which Massachusetts has adopted. Freedom Massachusetts, the primary organization advocating for the continuation of prohibitions against discrimination towards transgender people, argues that this law has not and will not affect the safety and privacy of Massachusetts residents, including in restrooms and locker rooms. The organization lists not only the aforementioned Police Association and Coalition Against Sexual Assault, but numerous other public safety and women’s advocacy groups as supporters of the Yes on 3 campaign.
The efforts that placed this crucial anti-discrimination legislation on the ballot this November were not born out of concerns for the safety of women and children, but rather out of prejudice towards transgender and nonbinary individuals, whose civil rights are under attack not only in the state of Massachusetts but across the United States. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that “more than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color” and the Human Rights Campaign has recorded 22 deaths due to fatal violence of transgender people in 2018 so far, the most recent being the death of Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier on Oct. 3. Rather than take steps to end discrimination and violence against trans and nonbinary people, the Trump administration has made this discrimination its agenda, plotting to define gender based on genitalia at birth and exclude trans and nonbinary individuals from civil rights protections.
The state of Massachusetts has been a leader in progressing the rights of BGLTQ Americans for decades, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in a wide range of public and private areas in 1989, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in areas including housing, employment, and union practices in 2012, and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations in 2016. When Massachusetts votes on equality, the nation watches. Often, it follows. The state is also home to over 100 colleges and universities — Harvard being one of its most prominent — housing transgender and nonbinary students from across the country and world. The rights and safety of these students, not all of whom are necessarily registered or eligible to vote in the state they spend the majority of their year, are left to be decided by the majority of Massachusetts voters. In order to protect the civil rights and safety of their transgender and nonbinary friends and neighbors, it is imperative that registered students and residents of Massachusetts vote “Yes” on ballot Question 3 this November.
Alison J. Scharmann ’21, a Crimson Arts Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Winthrop House. Justin P. McMahan ’21 is a Social Studies and African American Studies concentrator in Adams House. Amanda R. Powers ’21 lives in Cabot House.
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