Advocates come to Attleboro to defend transgender rights in public places

The Attleboro Public Library. (cmh2315fl / Flickr)

By Sizhong Chen
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was originally published in The Sun Chronicle.

ATTLEBORO — Transgender rights advocates gathered at the Attleboro Public Library this week to encourage local residents to uphold the state’s 2016 transgender anti-discrimination law.

Mayor Paul Heroux invited volunteers from Freedom for All Massachusetts, an advocacy group lobbying for civil rights of transgender people, to the Monday night gathering to discuss what “Yes on 3” means.

The group successfully lobbied legislators to add gender identity as a protected category in the commonwealth’s public accommodations law in June 2016. However, later in October, opponents of the law gathered enough signatures to repeal it, making it appear as a ballot question this year.

Citizens will vote Nov. 6 to decide whether transgender citizens should be protected against discrimination in public accommodation such as restrooms, locker rooms and restaurants. A “yes” vote will keep the existing nondiscrimination law in place, while a “no” vote will repeal it. Massachusetts is currently one of the 19 states that fully protect the civil rights of transgender people under the law.

The Rev. Molly McGinnis, a faith organizer with Freedom for All Massachusetts, is a transgender man. He has lived in six different states that are controlled by a conservative majority. A year ago, he moved from Georgia to Massachusetts.

“I’ve never imagined that Massachusetts of all places would put my rights on the chopping board,” he said.

Two weeks ago, McGinnis was at a table with some other volunteers for “Yes on 3” when he saw a woman with her 6-year-old transgender grandson. The boy was sitting underneath the table, patting McGinnis’s dog and handing out campaign stickers to everybody who came to the table.

“This little boy was full of much life and love, and I have to believe a part of that is because his family sees who he is,” McGinnis said. “I want the 6-year-old, dog-patting, sticker-loving transgender boys in this world to feel like they are safe.”

About 15 people came to the event in the Attleboro Public Library, including members from PFLAG Attleboro chapter and Attleboro Democratic City Committee. Heroux said that although he would have been happy to have twice as many people in the audience, he described the turnout as great, adding the conversation between the citizens and the coordinators was respectful.

Carissa Johnstone, an engineer in North Attleboro, joined Freedom for All Massachusetts after the event. As a transgender woman, Johnstone grew up in the town.

She said there is no group specifically for transgender people in the city and believes it’s important for her to speak up.

“I consider myself as a woman first and a trans second,” Johnstone said.

She brought back three campaign signs, hoping to educate people in her community on the ballot question.

A poll conducted by Suffolk University/Boston Globe in September showed strong support to retain the nondiscrimination law, with 73.2 percent saying they would vote yes.

But Kelsey Barowich, the coalition organizer at Freedom for All Massachusetts, said the poll came out before Keep MA Safe, which opposes law, placed online advertisements on social media such as Facebook. The Yes on 3 campaign, on the other hand, just started to put out its campaign ads last week.

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