Transgender rights rally draws hundreds at Boston City Hall

Video by Zijing Fu

By Yidan Sun
BU News Service

BOSTON — At Boston City Hall Plaza, where hundreds of demonstrators rallied in support of transgender rights ahead of the midterm election’s ballot Question 3, Jackie Rae, a Berklee music student and transgender woman, sang the lyrics of the song written by herself “Who am I?”

“Am I the boy you thought I’d be? Who am I? Am I the girl you just can’t see? Who am I? Is it wrong that I don’t know who am I? Is it dumb for me to hope that things will change in this world and no more asking boy or girl?”

Rae wrote this song when she was struggling with her gender identity. She describes going on a self-discovery process where she explored her identity using music.

“I’m more than what you see. I’m just happy being me,” Rae sang.

After coming out as a transgender woman in  September, Rae got more opportunities to perform and became more confident. She decided to use music to help transgender people understand themselves.

“That’s what we do as artists,” Rae said. “Speak for people who do not have voices.”

“Trans rights are human rights.” “We will not be erased.” signs arose next to City Hall calling for people to vote yes on the Massachusetts ballot Question 3 at the midterm election. Ballot Question 3 is asking voters whether to keep or repeal the state’s transgender anti-discrimination law.

Jackie Rae, a transgender woman and student at Berklee College of Music, sang the song “Who Am I” written by herself at a transgender rights rally that called people to vote yes on ballot Question 3, on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, at Boston City Hall Plaza. Photo by Yidan Sun / BU News Service

The law, enacted in 2016 and signed by Governor Charlie Baker, adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation. A yes vote would keep it in place, while a no vote would repeal this provision of the public accommodation law.

The vote will end on Nov. 6 and it is the first statewide referendum on transgender rights. In the U.S., 20 states, plus Washington D.C., have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Massachusetts becomes the first state to vote on transgender rights.

From Rae’s experience, facilities in her school have been friendly to transgender people. Berklee School of Music’s bathrooms have signs reading “Use the bathroom according to your gender identity.”

“I always feel comfortable in Boston,” Rae said. “It’s scary if people perceive you as a threat or as someone who doesn’t belong there. Massachusetts has always been a progressive state in transgender policy and the first state to allow same sex marriage. It’s really important to keep that as a state like a shining example for the whole country. Voting yes on Question 3 is vital for maintaining that standard in Massachusetts.”

Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said he has voted early and voted yes on Question 3.

“Donald Trump is wrong. You cannot make America great again by making America hate again,” Markey said. “Trans is about transcending hate. Discrimination has no place in Massachusetts.”

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh showed up at the rally in support for trans rights.

“Trans rights are human rights,” Walsh said. “We need to make sure that people understand that there are human beings behind that question and our legislature supports it, because we don’t want to go backwards but forward.”

Parents of transgender kids came to the front stage to show their support for their children, with signs that read: “Proud mom of a trans teen” and “Trans kids are our kids.”

Parents of transgender kids gathered at the front stage to show their support for transgender rights. Oct 28, 2018. Photo by Yidan Sun / BU News Service.

Janell Koch has lived for 17 years with her daughter and her daughter’s transgender partner. As a registered nurse, she used to work with a lot of transgender people.

“It’s nothing to do with your signed date of birth,” Koch said. “I’ve known that since I took care of patients who were trans. A lot of people just don’t realize it.” 

The statewide referendum was brought to the ballot by an organization called “Keep MA Safe,” which argues that the law that added gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination endangered the privacy and safety of women and children in public bathrooms.

“No law should make whole segments of the population feel unsafe and exploit their privacy and security,” wrote the organization’s chairman, Debby Dugan, on Keep MA Safe’s website.  

However, according to research made by the Williams Institute, a think tank focused on gender identity at the UCLA School of Law, transgender access and criminal incidents have been found to have no correlation. They examined restroom crime reports in Massachusetts cities before the law took effect statewide.

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