Transgender Rights in Massachusetts: A Conversation Between PILP and Freedom For All Massachusetts

For the month of November 2017, the PILP class turned its focus to the topic of transgender rights. Kicking off that discussion, the PILP class met on November 8 with David Topping, the Field Director for Freedom for All Massachusetts, the campaign to preserve Massachusetts’s transgender-inclusive public accommodation laws, which is currently the subject of a repeal effort scheduled to be voted on during the November 2018 elections.

Topping described the recent history of the transgender rights movement, focusing particularly on recent electoral and legislative campaigns across the country concerning the extension of nondiscrimination protections to transgender people in places of public accommodation, which include a wide range of businesses and facilities such as stores, restaurants, public parks, and public restrooms and locker rooms. In October 2016, the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor Baker acted to amend the Commonwealth’s public accommodation laws (see G. L. c. 272, §§ 92A and 99) to extend nondiscrimination protections to transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Shortly after that amendment went into effect, those opposed to the amendment gathered enough signatures to place a repeal measure on the Massachusetts ballot for November 2018. That effort represents the first statewide ballot question concerning transgender nondiscrimination.

Topping described Freedom for All Massachusetts’s efforts to counter false and damaging messages from opponents of transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. Topping explained the group’s strategy, which focuses on educating voters about the experiences of harassment and discrimination faced by transgender individuals. In making the case for extending protection to transgender individuals in public restrooms, the group points the broad base of support for the policy among law enforcement, women’s rights organizations, and groups that advocate for survivors of sexual violence. The PILP class also learned about opportunities to volunteer with Freedom for All Massachusetts, including door-to-door voter-education canvassing.

For more information about Freedom for All Massachusetts, please visit http://www.freedommassachusetts.org. To learn about the BBA’s support for transgender rights in 2016, click here, and to hear about how the new public accommodations law is working in practice, listen to our Issue Spot podcast on the subject, featuring Jill Zellmer of Tufts University, Mason Dunn of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and Catherine Reuben of Hirsch Roberts Weinstein.

Meeting recap provided by PILP Members Joshua M. Daniels (Solo Practice) and Mark Zglobicki (Massachusetts Inspector General’s Office).