Two years ago this month, we made history in Massachusetts. After a lengthy push, a measure my colleagues and I shepherded through both chambers of the legislature reached the desk of Governor Charlie Baker, who signed it into law. This was no ordinary piece of legislation. Its enactment symbolized a profound step forward for our Commonwealth and for our neighbors, co-workers, and friends who are transgender. With the stroke of the governor’s pen, Massachusetts finally fully and explicitly protected transgender people from discrimination and harassment in public places like restaurants, shops, and medical offices.
As I have said before, passing that legislation — with overwhelming supermajority support in both chambers — was among my proudest moments as speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Now our Commonwealth’s victory and values are at risk. A small group of opponents have collected the signatures necessary to place the law on the ballot for repeal. This November, civil rights will be up for a popular vote and I’m urging everyone to vote yes on Question 3. A yes vote is a vote to uphold the law and to ensure that dignity and respect remain as our guiding principles in Massachusetts.
While I believe treating our transgender friends and neighbors with the same respect and fairness we would all expect is reason enough to vote yes on Question 3, there are plenty of other reasons I’m doing so when I enter the polling booth on Election Day. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting transgender residents of our Commonwealth one-on-one, and I recognize that they only want to go about living their lives just like all of us. This law, which has been in place for nearly two years, allows them to do just that. I’ve been particularly moved and humbled by my meetings with transgender youth. As if coming of age — focusing on school and all that comes with teenage years — isn’t difficult enough, they have bravely stepped forward and told the world who they really are. If they are courageous enough to do that, we should all be courageous enough to stand with them. It’s the least we can do.
Make no mistake: If we fail to uphold this law, we — as a Commonwealth — will have failed to live up to our basic principles.
Opponents to this common-sense protection routinely and falsely claim that the law could be abused by criminals seeking to harm women and children in public restrooms. The facts simply don’t support this fiction. First and foremost, if someone commits a crime, they will be arrested and charged, just as they would have been before this law was enacted. Nothing about this law, which simply protects transgender people from discrimination, diminishes other laws. We took great care in crafting this legislation to ensure it made everyone in our communities safer. That is exactly what it has done: There has been no increase in public safety incidents since this law went into effect. In fact, leaders in law enforcement agree, including the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.
As speaker, I am proud that Massachusetts’ founding principles of equality and justice have helped shape history. However, if we fail to provide fundamental protections to transgender individuals, our reputation as a fair and inclusive state will be damaged beyond repair. I plan to do all I can to ensure that doesn’t happen.
We can take nothing for granted. Recent public polls show this as a 50/50 race. Together, we must raise our voices, remind each other of our values and what’s at stake, and ask ourselves, “How would I want to be treated?”
For two years this law has made our communities safer and demonstrated to transgender youth that their state has their back. Let’s ensure that on the morning after Election Day, we can still say that. Stand with me and the growing coalition of thousands who will vote yes on Question 3 on Nov. 6.
Robert DeLeo is speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.