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Activists file petition to repeal transgender law

Conservative activists want to put a repeal of the state’s recently passed transgender rights law on the ballot in 2018, a move that would extend a divisive debate over civil rights and privacy for at least another two years.

Activists made a formal request Monday to put the measure on the ballot. If the state’s attorney general signs off on the effort, they will have until late September to collect the necessary 32,375 signatures from voters to put a referendum before the state’s electorate in two years.

The law they hope to repeal, signed by Governor Charlie Baker two weeks ago, bans discrimination against transgender people at malls, restaurants, and other public accommodations.

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Proponents have hailed the measure as a civil rights breakthrough. But critics say it raises privacy concerns for women and children who might feel uncomfortable sharing a bathroom or locker room with someone with male anatomy who identifies as female.

“We believe it’s a bad law that endangers the safety of women and children,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the conservative Massachusetts Family Institute, who signed the petition filed on Monday.

Transgender rights advocates said they were disappointed to hear of the repeal effort.

“You don’t have a vote in this country to decide who will be treated equally and who will not,” said Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. “It is fundamentally un-American to do that.”

A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll from early May, before the transgender legislation was signed into law, found 53 percent of voters favored it, 30 percent were opposed, and 15 percent were undecided.

Kasey Suffredini, campaign cochairman with Freedom Massachusetts, which pushed for passage of the measure, said he was confident that strong support from the public, business leaders, and political leaders would protect it from repeal.

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“This is just a basic issue of fairness,” he said.

Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said several conservative advocacy groups, including the Renew Massachusetts Coalition and Catholic Citizenship, will be involved in the repeal effort, which kicks off with a State House rally on Wednesday.

“We believe as people learn about this bill,” he said, “more and more will mobilize against it.”

A prolonged ballot campaign could be uncomfortable for Baker, a Republican who has looked to avoid cultural fights in a deep blue state.

He opposed transgender rights legislation in his first, unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010. During this year’s State House debate over the public accommodations bill, he remained noncommittal for months, before he eventually announced he would sign the measure.

In the coming weeks, state Attorney General Maura Healey, an outspoken supporter of the transgender rights law, will be charged with deciding whether the petition can go forward. But the state’s constitution is explicit about permissible ballot measures.


David Scharfenberg
can be reached at david.scharfenberg
@globe.com
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Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.