In State After State, Americans Reject Anti-Transgender Discrimination on the Ballot

By Shane Stahl • July 3, 2018 • 10:28 am

Over the past several years, anti-LGBTQ opponents have attempted to force discriminatory policies at the ballot box in locations from coast to coast, seeking to codify anti-transgender discrimination and deny people equal protection from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Through the coordinated and strategic work of LGBTQ advocates, along with voters who understand that the dignity of transgender people is not up for debate, these efforts have all been beaten back.

Most recently, opponents of transgender equality in Montana failed to gather the 25,000+ signatures needed to place a measure on the ballot, reportedly falling short by more than 15,000 signatures. It’s the latest defeat, but certainly not the first.

Here’s a brief rundown of electoral victories against transgender discrimination:

MONTANA

News broke early in the morning on June 30, 2018 that an initiative to discriminate against transgender people in Montana had failed to gain even half the signatures needed from voters across the state to place the issue on the November 2018 ballot.

The ballot initiative, I-183, was an attack on transgender and nonbinary Montanans, seeking to prevent transgender and nonbinary Montanans from participating in certain aspects of public life in communities across the state. Like other laws and ballot measures that have been proposed in various states and localities, I-183 aimed to capitalize on the fears and uncertainties of voters and target Montana’s transgender community. Free and Fair Montana was the campaign leading the charge against the discriminatory measure.

Upon the announcement, Freedom For All Americans CEO Masen Davis said in a statement:

“LGBTQ advocates are winning, which is why anti-LGBTQ activists are rushing to the ballot box in a desperate race against time to attempt to roll back existing protections and exploit voters’ lack of familiarity with transgender people in order to codify discrimination into state law. But we know that when we introduce transgender people to their neighbors and illustrate why these nondiscrimination laws are so important, lawmakers and voters are moved to a place of treating people fairly. That’s why those who support treating LGBTQ people fairly are on the right side of history, and that’s why I’m confident that we’ll continue to make progress towards nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ Americans.”

WASHINGTON

While opponents of nondiscrimination have repeatedly attempted to pass an anti-transgender statewide initiative, twice consecutively they have failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, largely due to the efforts of Washington Won’t Discriminate, a campaign defending the dignity of transgender people. Freedom For All Americans has been proud to be a founding and leading member of Washington Won’t Discriminate.

Washington Won’t Discriminate assembled a strong coalition to fight back against anti-transgender attacks, including business owners, faith leaders, and safety advocates , helping to dispel myths and answer questions about transgender people.

Upon the initial failure of opponents to gather requisite signatures, campaign chair Seth Kirby offered:

“Washingtonians have sent a clear message – we won’t discriminate. As a transgender man, I’m encouraged that voters didn’t buy the pitch that repealing our state’s non-discrimination protections for transgender people would somehow make everyone safer. Washingtonians value fairness and equality and we believe that everyone in our state should be able to earn a living, frequent a business, earn an education, and raise a family free from the fear of discrimination.”    

ALASKA

The voters of Anchorage, Alaska made history in April 2018 by becoming the first municipality in the country to vote to uphold transgender dignity in a standalone ballot measure centered on transgender people. Anti-transgender opponents qualified for the ballot by gathering enough signatures, and a repeal effort was approved for placement on the April 2018 special election ballot.

To fight the repeal effort, Freedom For All Americans joined several other organizations in supporting the group known as Fair Anchorage, a coalition tasked with preventing the repeal of the city’s existing nondiscrimination protections.  

Starting in spring 2017, Fair Anchorage ran an engaging campaign that featured local Anchorage residents who would be directly and negatively affected by repeal of the law, particularly transgender youth and their families. In addition, Anchorage’s leading experts on public safety and women’s privacy, including the executive director of STAR, Anchorage’s leading organization to prevent sexual violence, 50 Anchorage businesses including the Anchorage Chamber, and 40 faith leaders and congregations all called on voters to oppose Proposition 1.

On April 3, by a vote of 52.7%, Anchorage residents voted to uphold the existing protections, affirming the dignity of transgender people throughout the city.

JACKSON, MI

After a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance was passed in early 2017, anti-transgender opponents in the city of Jackson, MI attempted to petition the ordinance to the ballot in an attempt to undo the city’s progress in protecting its LGBTQ residents.

However, a judge in the Michigan Circuit Court ruled that many of the signatures placed on the opponents’ petition were invalid, thereby clearing the way for the nondiscrimination ordinance to take effect.

Leading the charge in challenging the petition was Equality Michigan, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group. Their executive director, Stephanie White, said in a statement:

“For nearly 20 years, the people of Jackson have been asking their elected officials to outlaw discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and they have finally been heard. Equality Michigan feels incredibly lucky to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jackson Together to help support their long-time efforts and the people of Jackson are lucky to have such heroic and dogged activists fighting for their rights.”

CALIFORNIA

California faced its own transgender ballot fight in 2015 when a proposal known as the Personal Privacy Protection Act was submitted to Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office. The proposed legislation aimed to restrict restroom access for transgender people. Additionally, it would have permitted individuals who felt their privacy had been violated by a transgender person using a bathroom or locker room to sue that individual or the business or government entity for thousands of dollars. 

The proposal was submitted by Privacy For All, an anti-LGBTQ group that previously attempted to repeal a California law that allows transgender students to use facilities in their schools that correspond to their gender identity, as well as effectively barring them from playing on interscholastic sports teams. California law requires 365,000 signatures for a proposal to qualify for the ballot, but Privacy For All fell far short, blocking the proposal from reaching the abllot. 

The Next Transgender Ballot Fight: Massachusetts

Voters have sent the message repeatedly to anti-LGBTQ opponents: the dignity and well being of people is never something that should be legislated at the ballot box, and is an issue not up for public debate.

These victories should fuel the conversation around the next huge battleground for transgender dignity – the November 2018 election in Massachusetts.

Many have already referred to Massachusetts as “the next transgender rights battleground.” Anti-LGBTQ opponents unfortunately succeeded in gathering the bare minimum number signatures, an incredibly low threshold, to qualify a repeal effort to the 2018 ballot, which would remove existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in public accommodations that were signed into law by Republican Governor Charlie Baker in 2016. That means this November, Massachusetts will be the first state in the country—and the only state this year—to vote exclusively on basic protections for transgender people at the ballot box.

Opponents of equality have made no secret of why they’re targeting Massachusetts: If a repeal effort is successful in Massachusetts, it could embolden anti-LGBTQ forces to attempt similar repeal efforts across the country.

Freedom For All Massachusetts is the campaign uniting people across the state to vote YES on upholding the Bay State’s existing laws. Freedom For All Americans is proud to be a leading and founding member of the campaign, contributing staff time and resources, in addition to President of Strategy Kasey Suffredini serving as campaign co-chair. Learn more about Freedom For All Massachusetts by clicking here.


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