by Chris Johnson
August 22, 2018
Massachusetts will be ground zero in the fight for transgender rights on Election Day when state voters will decide whether to approve or reject a referendum aimed at compromising public bathroom access for transgender people.
The referendum, Question 3, seeks to repeal an update to the state’s non-discrimination law approved by the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in 2015 barring discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants as well as public restrooms.
Should voters decide to repeal the law with a majority vote of “no” on the referendum, transgender people would still have recourse under state law if they faced discrimination in employment, housing and education, but not if they’re turned away in bathrooms or other public accommodations in Massachusetts.
David Topping, field director for Yes on 3, said the campaign is “working every day” to ensure Massachusetts voters know what’s at stake for transgender people if the referendum fails.
“It means transgender people can be transgender at home, they can be transgender at work, they can be transgender at school, but they can’t go out in public and be transgender,” Topping said.
Topping said Yes on 3 is “building a robust campaign” that includes staffers in major cities, such as Boston and Worcester. In terms of finances, Topping was reluctant to disclose goals, but said the campaign has a more than $1 million budget and reserved $1 million in airtime for TV ads throughout Massachusetts.
The stakes are high not just for transgender people in Massachusetts. The referendum marks the first time a transgender non-discrimination measure will come before voters at a statewide level. The results will likely impact the national discussion on such protections.
Kasey Suffredini, president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans, said the coalition seeking to uphold the law recognizes the outcome of the vote will have bearing outside Massachusetts.
“It’s a fight of tremendous local significance because it impacts the very basic ability of transgender people to just about their daily lives in public,” Suffredini said. “It also has national significance because it is the first statewide vote on transgender non-discrimination protections in our country’s history, and the anti-transgender activist who put this question on the ballot have said if they are successful in Massachusetts, they will work to roll back LGBT protections across the country.”