As president of the Boston Bar Association, a professional organization with more than 10,000 attorney members, I am proud to affirm the association’s support for our state’s nondiscrimination law that protects the rights of transgender people in places of public accommodation. All residents of the Commonwealth should be able to use and access our public spaces without experiencing discrimination based on who they are. For that reason, the BBA is an active supporter of Yes on 3: Freedom for All Massachusetts, a broad, bipartisan coalition working to defend these nondiscrimination protections at the ballot box this November.
The BBA has stood behind such protections for more than a decade, and we applauded when the current nondiscrimination law was signed by Governor Charlie Baker in 2016. The measure filled a crucial gap in a 2011 law, which provided equal rights for transgender people in employment, housing, credit, and higher education, but didn’t cover places of public accommodation. Public accommodations are spaces that most of us use every day, including retail stores, restaurants, hotels, parks, theaters, public transit, public restrooms, and medical offices. Nondiscrimination protections ensure that transgender people have equal access to these public spaces, which are essential to participating fully in civic and social life.
These protections are now under threat. This November, voters will be asked at the ballot box whether they support the current nondiscrimination law; and, if they vote against it, transgender Massachusetts residents will see a devastating rollback on their basic civil rights. I hope that as a state we will vote yes to reaffirm our commitment to our nondiscrimination law and the values of equality and respect for all that it represents. If we want to live in a fair and just society, we must ensure that our laws promote justice and equal opportunity; and it is critical that our laws are based on fact, not fear.
In the case of our current nondiscrimination law, the facts are clear: The law has been on the books statewide for two years — and the City of Boston has had a similar law for over a decade — with no correlating increase in public safety incidents. Despite the law’s positive track record, opponents claim it could legitimize inappropriate behavior in restrooms and locker rooms. That is simply not true; it remains illegal to harass or assault people in those places, and this law explicitly prohibits people from asserting gender identity for any “improper purpose.”
Furthermore, the reality is that transgender people, especially transgender women of color, are particularly likely to experience harassment and gender-based violence. Thus, when talking about issues of privacy and safety, it is essential that we safeguard and strengthen the rights of transgender people. This is why we are joined in our support of yes on Question 3 not only by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, and other local law enforcement officials, but also by dozens of prominent women’s organizations and groups that combat sexual assault and domestic violence, many of which advocated for the nondiscrimination law to be enacted in the first place.
Finally, the BBA is deeply committed to advocating for policies that ensure that children and young people are safe, healthy, and empowered to reach their full potential. We know that the practice of law, like other professions, benefits when young people are free to follow their dreams and bring their full wealth of talents to the table. When transgender children and teenagers experience discrimination, harassment, or bullying, it can have long-lasting effects on everything from their mental health to their plans to undertake a college education. We must uphold laws that protect equal opportunities for transgender young people, and that promote their ability to thrive in school and in all areas of public life.
The BBA is proud of its long history of advocating for the rights of transgender people in Massachusetts. This is because as lawyers and as citizens, we know the law is at its best when it is used to advance the ideals of freedom, equality, and human dignity. This November we urge Massachusetts voters to vote yes on these core principles of our democracy by voting yes on Question 3.
Jonathan M. Albano, who is outside counsel for The Globe, is president of the Boston Bar Association.