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Guest Blog by Aaron Piracini, Transgender Health Coordinator, Victory Programs’ Mobile Prevention Team
There have been a lot of questions and uncertainty around Ballot Question 3 recently, and with the November election just around the corner, it’s beginning to feel more and more confusing. As some of you may already know, we at Victory Programs are publicly supporting the Yes on 3 campaign so that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can continue to be an open and diverse community centered on inclusivity of everyone, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. Regardless of how you decide to vote on this issue it’s important to know the facts and be aware of some of the myths and misinformation being circulated.
So let’s start with the basics: What does a “Yes” or “No” vote even mean? On July 7th 2016 the House of Representatives and the Senate approved a law that, in the words of the ballot question, “adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation”. A key thing to note right away is the term “Public Accommodation”. A lot of uncertainty around this question comes from the idea that this law is completely focused on public restrooms when, in reality, it protects people from discrimination based on their gender identity in any place that is open to the public and provides goods or services. These “Public Accommodations” include hotels, restaurants, public parks, public transportation, and yes, public restrooms.
The campaign supporting the “No” vote is claiming safety issues as their main concern. They say these non-discrimination protections could be used as cover for misconduct in restrooms, and that legally protecting transgender people in public places endangers women and children because it allows cisgender men to invade women’s spaces with intent to do harm. But that’s not true. It is still illegal to enter a restroom or a locker room to harm someone, and the law explicitly prohibits people from falsely using gender identity as an excuse for improper behavior. If that didn’t convince you, take a look at the 18 states and more than 200 municipalities that have passed laws protecting transgender people in public spaces, including Massachusetts in 2016 and 14 Massachusetts municipalities prior to the statewide law, and haven’t had any issues. In fact, since 2012, Massachusetts law has allowed transgender folks in public schools to use the facilities that align with their gender identity and there have been no reported incidents. If this is something our children or grandchildren can easily grasp, the rest of us should be able to as well.
Finally, some of you may be wondering why we’re talking about this at all. Massachusetts is thought of as an extremely progressive and forward-thinking state, so a lot of people are under the impression that discrimination against transgender people simply doesn’t happen here. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In 2014, a survey performed by the Fenway Institute and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition found that 65% of transgender folks in Massachusetts had experienced discrimination in a public place in the past 12 months. That means that, out of the 452 people surveyed, approximately 294 people had reported experiencing anti-transgender discrimination in 2014, and that only includes the folks we know about.
At Victory Programs, we aim to create a community that is diverse, promotes positivity, and maintains a climate centered on inclusivity for everyone. Upholding the current protections for our transgender neighbors is essential to maintaining the culture of respect, dignity, and equality that we as citizens of the commonwealth greatly value. By voting to uphold these protections, we send a clear message from those of us that support our transgender neighbors, to those that don’t: you’re out-numbered.
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