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Massachusetts overwhelmingly upholds transgender nondiscrimination protections

"Yes on 3" prevailed over scary bathroom ads.

Actress Laverne Cox urging people to vote Yes on 3 last month. CREDIT: Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images
Actress Laverne Cox urging people to vote Yes on 3 last month. CREDIT: Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

Voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly upheld Question 3 on Tuesday, a referendum on the state’s transgender nondiscrimination protections.

While votes were still being counted, both the “Yes” and “No” campaigns acknowledged that “Yes” had won, meaning voters agreed that it should continue to be illegal to deny service on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations. It was the first time an entire state voted specifically on the rights of transgender people.

The law in question was first passed in 2016, but conservatives collected signatures in an attempt to repeal it via a referendum. Calling themselves “Keep MA Safe,” they ran incendiary ads falsely claiming that the law allows men to enter women’s restrooms, thus somehow jeopardizing their safety. Though the argument has been a common refrain in past trans rights debates, a recent academic study found such safety concerns to be completely vacuous.

Following lessons learned after similar fights in Houston and Anchorage, advocates for preserving the law ran ads featuring transgender people and their families, as well as safety officials and women’s advocates refuting the claims that trans people posed safety risks. Whereas Houston’s nondiscrimination protections were overturned in 2015, such ads helped motivate voters in Anchorage to retain their law earlier this year.

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As Kasey Suffredini, co-chairman of the Yes on 3 campaign, explained earlier this fall, “This law simply protects transgender people from discrimination in public places, and that is why law enforcement leaders from across Massachusetts and the leading sexual assault prevention groups support upholding this law.”

One humorous ad urged people to vote to uphold the law because, “Yeah, we’re Massholes, but we’re no assholes.”

Polling heading into the election found between 71 and 73 percent of voters stating that they were voting “Yes.” Early vote counts suggested “Yes” was winning with about 68-72 percent of the vote.

The Yes campaign declared victory, describing Massachusetts had voted “to uphold dignity and respect for our transgender neighbors.

In a statement, the Keep MA Safe campaign falsely bemoaned that “Massachusetts will continue to be a safe-haven for sexual predators.” It promised to “move forward, developing other strategies to protect the rights of those who are negatively affected by this law.”