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Election guide: Here’s what you need to know about Question 3

A flag representing the transgender community, right, flies next to the Massachusetts state flag, left, in Boston. Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Globe’s 2018 election guide takes a look at the candidates and issues on the Nov. 6th ballot.

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Ballot Question 3 asks Massachusetts voters whether they approve of the existing state law barring discrimination against transgender people in public spaces like stores and restaurants. The law, enacted in 2016, also requires any public places that have separate areas for males and females, like restrooms, to let people use the area consistent with their gender identity.

The ballot question is being closely watched nationwide because it’s the nation’s first statewide voter referendum on transgender rights. Activists on both sides view this as a hugely significant test case nationwide, particularly because Massachusetts was the first state where gay marriage became legal.


Q: What public places would be affected?

The law affects places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement, which are defined as any places that are open to the public. Think bars and restaurants, hotels and shops, theaters, sports stadiums, and hospitals.

Q: Does “transgender” mean that someone has had sex reassignment surgery?

No. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity is not the one they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to someone’s sincerely held identity, appearance, or behavior.

Q: Who wants to repeal the law and why?

The “No on 3” campaign, called Keep MA Safe, is led by some of the same activists who fought gay marriage in Massachusetts, particularly the Massachusetts Family Institute. They argue that the law aimed at protecting transgender people is making everyone less safe because it muddies the definition of gender and creates an opening for male predators to access ladies’ rooms.

Q: Will this ballot question change anything for me if I’m cisgender (not transgender)?

No. The law has been in place for two years. You may have already seen a transgender woman using a ladies’ room in a restaurant or a transgender man changing in a men’s locker room. However, it is likely to make all residents more aware of the 2016 law. And opponents think that greater awareness will lead people to abuse the law (ie., by infiltrating bathrooms of the opposite gender with bad intentions).


Q: Is there any evidence that bathroom crimes have increased since the law took effect?

No. Opponents who raise public safety concerns often point to individual reports of voyeurism in fitting rooms and bathrooms. But police do not track such incidents by location, and opponents cannot point to any cases in Massachusetts in which the perpetrator claimed to be transgender to gain access to a bathroom. The first peer-reviewed study on the subject seeking an association between transgender access and criminal incidents found no such link. Researchers at the Williams Institute, a think tank focused on gender identity at the UCLA School of Law, examined restroom crime reports in Massachusetts cities before the law took effect statewide and found no difference between cities that had adopted local transgender antidiscrimination policies and those that had not.

Q: What does a “Yes” vote mean?

Voters who vote “Yes” are saying they want to keep the current law in place.

Q: What does a “No” vote mean and how would it affect transgender people?

A “No” vote means you object to the existing antidiscrimination law for transgender people in places of public accommodation. Receiving a majority of “No” votes would repeal the law, meaning transgender people could legally be turned away from restaurants, sporting events, shopping centers, and any other public spaces. Transgender people would no longer have explicit legal protection to use the bathroom of their gender identity, but neither would they be required to use the bathroom of their birth gender (as a controversial North Carolina law, which has since been repealed, would have required). Because there are no bathroom police, though, most people would probably use the bathroom where they feel most comfortable.


Informed voters make the best decisions. Sign-up to receive the Globe’s midterm election guide, with breakdowns of key local and national races, profiles of the candidates, and endorsements from our editorial board. And come back on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 6, for live results on the races and analysis from our expert political team.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.