Massachusetts voters resoundingly reaffirmed the rights of transgender people Tuesday, voting by a 2-1 ratio to uphold the 2016 state law that bars discrimination against them in such public places as restaurants, bars, and athletic facilities.
With 69 percent of ballots tallied, the “Yes on 3” side, which favored preserving the nondiscrimination law, was leading 68 percent to 32 percent.
Transgender activists, volunteers, and family members who gathered for an election night watch party at the Fairmont Copley Plaza roared at the news of victory just before 10 p.m., waving a flag representing transgender rights and chanting “Yes on 3!”
“It validates us,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who is transgender. “We are part of the American community. We are part of the American story. And we have some political might. We’re not going to be bullied.”
Proponents trumpeted the historic significance of the win.
“Today’s win will be felt nationwide and will have a domino effect on the movement going forward for transgender equality everywhere,” said campaign co-chair Kasey Suffredini.
Activists with the “Keep MA Safe — No on 3” campaign had sought the ballot question to repeal a law they said went too far to accommodate people’s gender identity, which refers to someone’s sincerely held sense of self, rather than their biology. Without clear gender lines, opponents argued, men could claim the right to be in women’s bathrooms and prey upon women and children.
“We are deeply disappointed that the people of Massachusetts will continue to be forced to sacrifice their privacy and safety in the name of political correctness,” said campaign legal analyst Andrew Beckwith.
Debby Dugan, chairwoman of the opposition campaign, added: “The ‘Yes on 3’ campaign had an overwhelming advantage in dollars, and they used it to distract the electorate from what’s really at stake in this issue – safety and the rights of women.”
As the nation’s first statewide voter referendum on transgender rights, the ballot question was closely watched nationally and had been expected to be as polarizing as the debate over gay marriage, which first became legal in Massachusetts. Repeal of a transgender rights law in liberal Massachusetts could have had a ripple effect in other states that have embraced transgender rights.
But the gamble backfired for the “No on 3” campaign, which was led by some of the same activists who fought gay marriage years ago. Their campaign failed to garner widespread support or financial backing, while the LGBTQ activists pushed back ferociously at the threat of losing rights they had gained.
“We didn’t choose this fight. But the silver lining of having to have a fight is that we grew this army,” said cochair Mason Dunn. “We increased our momentum and we have dramatically increased the number of people who can say they know somebody who is transgender.”
To defend transgender rights, he said, an army of 4,000 campaign volunteers knocked on more than 300,000 doors, made more than 2 million phone calls, and had more than 100,000 conversations with voters.
Throughout the campaign, activists sought to make the issue relatable and to try to quell concerns raised by the opposition.
“Our strategy all along was to be as aggressive as possible in reaching voters where they are — at the door and on the phone,” said spokesman Matthew Wilder. “We built a strategy with the notion in mind that they [the question’s opponents] would go up on television, and the fact that that didn’t happen didn’t require us to change our strategy at all.”
Defenders of the law had said from the outset that they would need at least $5 million to combat an opposition campaign they expected would launch TV ads in the closing days of the campaign, a familiar strategy to veterans of ballot question fights.
But those never made it into Massachusetts’ expensive media market.
Coalescing around the idea of protecting Massachusetts voters’ values, proponents raised a total of more than $4.9 million as of Monday — 10 times the oppositions’ $456,774.
In the final three weeks of the campaign, the “No on 3” campaign raised just $14,221 — including $5,000 from the campaign chairman — and relied on key personnel to provide pro bono staff time and other in-kind service worth $12,504, according to reports filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Expenditures in recent weeks were under $87,000.
The “Yes on 3” campaign, meanwhile, raised over $1 million in the last three weeks and spent $1.4 million. That group, too, received in-kind services of $80,171, with pro bono staff help coming from such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, MassEquality, and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Teachers Association helped with event planning, and Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. contributed $30,000 in Facebook advertising.
Freedom for All Massachusetts, as the “Yes on 3” campaign called itself, built a coalition that included major unions and employers, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Red Sox. Business entities feared that repealing the law would create a backlash for businesses as was seen in North Carolina, where the Legislature restricted transgender people to using the bathroom of their birth gender.
Some supporters of the question said they were offended that they were even asked to vote on transgender rights.
“I just think that that’s a human right,” said Allie Minghella, 22, a law student who lives in Burlington. “And they have the right to be in a public places place just like everyone else does.”
“It’s 2018. It’s our reality,” said Rachel Seeley, 21, of Burlington. “We’re becoming more accepting.”
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com.