On Tuesday, Massachusetts voters upheld a 2016 law preventing transgender people from being turned away from services based on their gender identity. The 68-32 vote ensures that transgender people in Massachusetts will continue to enjoy the same rights afforded to the state’s other residents. 

But it never should have gotten to this point. That any minority population’s rights could be put to a vote, or subject to a patchwork of state laws, speaks to the need for the 116th Congress to pass a national policy upholding equal rights.

Many viewed the 2015 Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States as an indicator that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people had fully equal rights. Three years later, the Trump administration has rolled back federal protections for LGBT people and 12 states have passed policies explicitly permitting unequal treatment of LGBT people.

In Kentucky and Kansas, youth can be turned away from participation in student organizations for being LGBT. In Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee, patients can be turned away by medical professionals for being LGBT — a policy that the Department of Health and Human Services seeks to implement nationwide. The Trump administration also reversed a federal policy preventing federal employees from being fired based on being LGBT and is considering a move to define gender as a biological condition determined at birth, despite medical professional consensus that gender is not biologically defined. 

These policies are in stark contrast to the protections guaranteed to all citizens in the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution, which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The courts uphold equal rights with strict scrutiny for protected classes such as racial and ethnic minorities, who have been subject to historic discrimination based on immutable characteristics. 

Protection of life and liberty, of course, includes the protection of health. Yet it is clear that LGBT people still face health inequities linked to discrimination. Transgender people are eight times more likely to report a suicide attempt in their lifetime relative to cisgender people. Similarly, gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescents are nearly five times more likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year relative to their heterosexual peers. These inequities have been linked to stigma at the stateneighborhoodschoolpeer and family levels. 

Laws permitting the denial of services to LGBT people exacerbate existing health disparities. In a study of three of the first state policies permitting the denial of services to LGBT people, we found that such policies were linked to a 46 percent increase in the proportion of gay, lesbian and bisexual adults who reported mental distress.

In contrast, we found that gaining equal rights through state marriage equality policies was linked to a 14 percent reduction in gay, lesbian and bisexual adolescent suicide attempts, ahead of the 2015 Supreme Court decision making marriage equality legal throughout the country. 

While proponents of laws permitting unequal rights for LGBT people suggest that these laws are a matter of religious rights, there is no evidence that those who are religious are experiencing harm when LGBT people have equal rights. In contrast to the severe mental health disparities affecting those who are LGBT, those who are religious do not experience such disparities; in fact, those who are religious consistently report better mental health than those who are not. 

Massachusetts voters upheld the spirit and principles of the U.S. Constitution by voting that transgender people are equal people, who deserve equal rights. It should not have been up to Massachusetts voters to protect the well-being of a minority population.

Upholding the Constitution is a responsibility we entrust to the senators and representatives elected yesterday and in past years, who take an oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The members of the 116th Congress should pass the The Equality Act to ensure that all of the people of the United States have permanently and universally equal rights.

The country’s first major-party transgender candidate for governor said Thursday she doesn’t know what she will do next now that she’s lost the election in Vermont — but Christine Hallquist is keeping all of her options open.

Hallquist, a former utility executive who was a relative unknown at the start her Democratic campaign, won 40 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s election against Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who took 55 percent.

“I wouldn’t change anything, and everything about the campaign was exciting and rewarding, except for the losing part,” said Hallquist, who was taking a break after the election, visiting her grandchildren out of state on Thursday.

She knew it would be uphill battle. Beating an incumbent governor doesn’t happen often in Vermont. The last time was in 1962.

Hallquist led a trailblazing, historic campaign, said The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ civil rights organization.

“She ran on a platform of furthering civil rights, expanding health care and holding government accountable — committing to making Vermont an even stronger, more vibrant and inclusive state,” President Chad Griffin said in a written statement after the election. “Hallquist’s inspiring and pioneering campaign has sent a loud, clear message that transgender people deserve a seat at the table in every level of government.”

In his victory speech, Scott thanked Hallquist for running a spirited and civil campaign .

What has not been civil is the vitriol Hallquist has faced and still does on social media, which she said for the most part doesn’t bother her.

“I pretty much ignore it because it’s really reflective on the person, not necessarily me, and I’m sorry that people have their bias, and I think it’s more a reflection on their insecurity because I don’t even know how I could be perceived as a threat,” she said.

After returning from her visit with family, she said she will have to find a job but didn’t know yet what that would be.

“I’m keeping the options open,” she said.

Massachusetts transgender rights will remain protected after the Question 3 ballot initiative passed last night.

Question 3 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations such as restrooms on the basis of gender identity, race or sex.

"Voters here in Massachusetts have sent a powerful, unmistakable message that this is a state that values, welcomes, and honors transgender people,” said Mason Dunn, “Yes on 3” campaign co-chairman.

A “no” vote would have stripped gender protections which would have undone the transgender rights law passed in 2016.

The “Yes on 3” campaign, led by Freedom for All Massachusetts earned over $5 million in campaign contributions while the “No on 3” campaign brought in just over $650,000 in contributions.

Supporters of the ballot measure pointed to necessary protections for the transgender people who have previously experienced harassment.

The opposition argued that the anti-discrimination law could negatively impact the safety of women and children in public areas with open access to bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms.

“When Massachusetts leads on equality, the nation watches — and often, it follows,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts after last night’s victory.

Shy 6-year-old Skyler Rhodes-Courter stood on stage and whispered into her mother’s ear in front of more than 200 transgender people and their supporters who gathered at Williams Park.

With a smile, mom Ashley Rhodes-Courter relayed, "We will not be erased."

That phrase was chanted throughout Sunday’s St. Pete We Won’t Be Erased Transgender Support Rally, where signs displayed slogans such as "These colors don’t run" and attendees promised to make their voices heard in this week’s election.

But there was also a somber undertone at the event.

Such rallies should no longer be necessary, some said, since it wasn’t that long ago that it was believed civil rights for transgender people would soon be a settled issue.

"We shouldn’t have to be here, really," said Jim Nixon, LGBTQ liaison for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. "But this is an opportunity to show support for our family."

The rally was planned in reaction to news that the Trump administration is considering narrowing the definition of gender to male and female.

The move would roll back efforts by the Obama administration to broaden legal definitions of gender and sex to include an estimated 1.4 million transgender Americans.

"The last few weeks have been more challenging than the last 20 years of advocacy," said event emcee Nathan Bruemmer. "We had made such good progress."

A U.S. Health and Human Services Department proposal redefining gender identification would be the latest in a series of moves the transgender community sees as hostile.

The Trump administration has also sought to ban openly transgender people from serving in the military, reversed Obama-era guidance stating public schools should allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, and said the 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination.

"Your pencil is not big enough to erase us," Taylor TeMonet Burts told the crowd, reacting to the proposed policies. "People are people. We deserve respect."

Husband and wife John and Nancy Desmond, who founded the Tampa and St. Petersburg chapters of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG, lamented that this may be a confusing time for LGTBQ kids.

"This generation hasn’t known anything but progress," said Nancy Desmond, whose adult son is gay. "They can marry, adopt kids, serve in the military. We are moving backwards."

Jason Guagliardo, 17, attended the event with his mother, Debbie Guagliardo. He said that since Donald Trump was elected, "ugly people are coming out of the woodwork and posting things on social media that I did not expect from them. It is disappointing."

St. Petersburg City Council members Darden Rice, Gina Driscoll and Steve Kornell spoke at the rally to remind the crowd the city supports equal rights and to encourage them to vote.

Kornell pointed out the roughly 100,000 transgender people in Florida — along with their friends and family — constitute a voting bloc that can make a difference in a state where elections are historically won by a slim margin.

 Nearly 1,000 people gathered outside the State House on Saturday and spoke with one voice: We will not be erased.

The rally, organized by many community groups, was designed to defy the Trump administration’s efforts to define gender as determined by genitalia at birth. The Obama administration broadened the legal concept of gender, recognizing it largely as an individual’s choice.

Now the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is trying to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive aid from the federal government.

At the State House, the crowd was a study in diversity, with parents supporting their transgender children; gay, cisgender men and women standing up for their transgender friends, and transgender individuals speaking on behalf of marginalized communities across the country.

The Rev. Donnie Anderson, a transgender woman who publicly transitioned this summer, drew some of the loudest cheers when she said, “I’m Donnie. I’m trans. I’m queer. And I’m going nowhere.”

Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said, “After 69 years of confusion, dysphoria and shame, no one is going to erase me.”

There are members of the faith community who love and support transgender people, she said.

“I understand your anger and your hurt,” Anderson said. “Don’t let it ruin your life. Love is always stronger than hate.”

Ryan Welsh, the 2018 Mr. Gay Rhode Island, said there is not only power, but safety, in numbers.

 

“It’s important that we show ourselves,” he said. “I’m here to show support for a community that is under attack.”

Speaker after speaker described how their rights are being undermined by the Trump presidency.

Ethan Huckel said, “I don’t feel lucky today. I feel weary and anxious and emotionally drained.” But Huckel said the Trump presidency has become a rallying cry in the struggle to survive, and that struggle unites queer and transgender individuals.

Nora Kaplan, another speaker, said fascism is the common thread that links the hatred against transgender individuals and the mass murders of Jewish congregants in Pittsburgh last week.

“A central tenet of Judaism is to repair the world,” Kaplan said. “You don’t have to finish the task. But you can’t give it up.”

Payton James, a member of Rhode Island Pride, led the crowd in a chant that embraced every marginalized group.

“We won’t be erased!” James said.

 

“Indigenous trans people will not be erased,” James continued. “Black trans people will not be erased. Disabled trans people will not be erased. And people of color will never be erased.”

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