Members of the LBGTQ community, in particular transgender people, and allies are working to protect the public accommodations law adopted by the Massachusetts legislature in 2016.
The law specifically protects a person based on their gender identity, but could be repealed if voters choose ‘no’ on the ballot question in November.
Freedom for All Massachusetts Campaign Co-chair, Kasey Suffredini, explained what public accommodations are during a political forum sponsored by Boston Pride that was held on April 4 at District Hall in Boston.
“It’s a public place – that’s what it is, so it’s where we are now. This is a place that could conceivably deny transgender people access to it,” Suffredini said.
Though the bill is constantly being framed as a “bathroom bill,” Suffredini said the bill goes beyond that.
“I think every day where I’m going to be and whether or not it’s a place where I’m likely able to safely use the restroom,” Suffredini said, adding that the law questions whether trans people have the right to be in public at all.
“We have lots and lots of stories of transgender people getting up to the counter at a grocery store and being told we won’t sell you those things, we don’t serve you here – here, in the last ten years in this state,” Suffredini said. “There’s lots of these stories. It’s a real thing.”
Speaking of the importance to maintain public accommodations for all people, regardless of their gender identity, was Sarah McBride, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign.
McBride spoke about her fight to have her home state of Delaware pass similar public accommodations legislation and why it needs to stay protected here in Massachusetts.
“Over the last year we’ve seen over a hundred bills, anti-LGBTQ bills, introduced in roughly 30 states across this country,” McBride said, “and this November the eyes of the nation will be on Massachusetts as this state becomes the first state in the nation to have transgender protections specifically on the statewide ballot.”
Her speech was followed by a parent activist, Mimi Lemay, whose transgender son changed the hearts of her family. She spoke of the need to fight again to maintain equal protections in Massachusetts.
“Right now I feel as a family with our advocacy we’re giving up privacy for a promise of a better future, that things will change if we share our story, and that’s a painful choice but I’m an optimist and I think we’re going to see a change over the next five to 10 years,” Lemay said.
McBride spoke of the need for others to get involved and share their stories as well given that November’s decision in Massachusetts could set the tone for the country.
“We can’t be complacent in this fight. We’ve seen far too often that even in the most progressive places, in the bluest states, anti-equality opponents can have some wins,” McBride said. “Massachusetts can be the stopgap that can be the bulwark against anti-LGBTQ politics in 2018, and that will happen because of all of you.”
Many of the panelists spoke of the need for non-LGBT people, or bystanders, to get involved in the fight, including transgender teen Nicole Talbot, an aspiring actress and activist.
She said though this should be a non-issue it is sad that it is and it is time to humanize the issue to get more people in the game.
“The majority of young people do not know about this, do not know anything about this. Even a lot of my trans friends don’t even know they even had protections in the first place,” Talbot said. “All we can do is to continue to say is this is who we are and stand up for who we are and tell our stories.”
State Representative Byron Rushing also urged panelists and guests to remind voters of who they are in this fight.
“What this is is a referendum on a law that we passed,” Rushing said. “We will win this one, but it will not be easy because we have given people an opportunity to go and vote for bigotry and hatred.”
Suffredini said, “It really is about talking to your neighbors and your friends and your co-workers and telling them that this is important to you, that it’s happening and that you want the Commonwealth to be the state that I think people think it is … That is ultimately what this vote is about, I think it’s what the Masterpiece case was about – it’s ultimately about the core principle we have in this country that when a business is open for one it is open to all.”