Trans peoples’ civil rights are at stake in Massachusetts this fall
‘Get out and make sure this repeal question does not take our rights away’
Trans rights are on the line in Massachusetts, where a crucial ballot this November decides their future. A referendum on keeping or repealing a law protecting trans people is on the agenda, and it's being called "ground zero in the latest round of the nation’s culture wars." A right-wing, anti-trans group called Keep MA Safe have been working to repeal an anti-discrimination law from 2016, pushing out nauseating ads that play on stereotypes about young girls getting harassed in bathrooms.
So what's at stake? And what would a yes or no vote mean? Lorelei Erisis, a trans activist and Rainbow Times columnist, told us everything you need to know about the upcoming referendum this fall.
What is the referendum about?
The ballot question is a repeal question of the public accommodations law that went into effect in 2016. It’s really, really scary. Essentially, a yes vote would uphold the current law and keep these protections in place. And a no vote would repeal the law and it would strip transgender people of these public accommodations protections that we just got. While these protections cover bathrooms and locker rooms, when we’re talking about public accommodations, we’re talking about any place outside your home or workplace. Restaurants, buses, courthouses, libraries, any of these places are places where before we had this law, as a transgender person I could be kicked out of a restaurant fairly legally — or at least not illegally. So they were really necessary protections. They allow us to live our lives as regular folks. If they manage to get enough votes to repeal the law, it would be obviously terrible for trans people in Massachusetts like me. It would strip us of actual civil rights.
Are you confident that the law will stay in place?
I’m confident, and many of us are cautiously confident. Speaking personally, I think the people of Massachusetts are good, decent people who don’t want to see a minority population stripped of their civil rights. I travel around and I meet all sorts of fairly conservative people who I don’t think would want to see this law repealed. They’re good folks. The people who have been pushing this, the people who have put the repeal question on the ballot… what drives a person to dedicate their lives to taking rights away from their neighbors? That’s weird to me. Aren’t there better things you could do with your time? Since this law passed, it’s not like there have been problems. It’s like not the law passed and suddenly cats and dogs are raining from the sky and everything’s ending! No, I can pee legally, which I’ve been doing for 10 years anyway.
So what can people do to help?
Turn out to vote. It’s a non-presidential election year, and that tends to create a lower voter turnout. If people are scared by the current political climate, they should turn out to vote anyway. They need to turn out and vote yes and upload the current law and keep these current protections in place. They can also, if they're really motivated to help, contact Freedom for all Massachusetts and phone bank and talk to their neighbors. This is a thing I like to encourage people to do generally. Take this information and translate it to your own community, talk to the people you work with and encourage them to keep these protections in place. Get out and make sure this repeal question does not take our rights away.
Conversation edited for clarity and length.