Historic Win in Massachusetts Caps a Year of Transgender Nondiscrimination VictoriesBy Shane Stahl • November 9, 2018 • 2:48 pm
Building on momentum that began in spring of 2018, Tuesday night’s successful victory in Massachusetts for the first-ever statewide popular vote on transgender rights serves not only as a milestone in the LGBTQ rights movement, but sends a clear message that Americans care about their transgender friends and neighbors, and that discrimination is not an American value.
Freedom for All Americans, the leading bipartisan organization working to ensure explicit and comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people, has been at the forefront of working from coast to coast to defend the dignity of transgender people. In 2018 alone, three major campaigns achieved victory, in large part because of FFAA’s leadership on overall strategy, communications, messaging, digital organizing, and field work,.
In 2015, FFAA became a founding and leading member of the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign to update state law to include protections for transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, such as restaurants, stores, and medical offices. Through the hard work of dedicated staff and volunteers, in 2016, a bipartisan supermajority of the legislature passed these protections and Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed it into law.
Shortly thereafter, anti-LGBTQ advocates collected the small number of signatures needed to force a repeal effort on the November 2018 ballot. The election would mark the first in U.S. history in which the rights of transgender people would be decided by voters at the polls.
Freedom for All Massachusetts sprang into action immediately — helping assemble the largest bipartisan campaign in history in support of transgender nondiscrimination protections. Serving as campaign co-chair was FFAA President of Strategy, Kasey Suffredini, a longtime veteran of working on LGBTQ rights both in Massachusetts and at the national level in places like New Hampshire, Washington State, and Anchorage, AK. The coalition’s thousands of endorsers included the governor, attorney general, and dozens of mayors; sexual violence prevention groups; law enforcement; hundreds of small and large businesses; and hundreds of faith leaders. The cornerstone of the campaign was centering transgender voices — both in terms of who transgender people are and why transgender nondiscrimination protections are so important, particularly for transgender youth. The Yes on 3 campaign subsequently launched to urge a “yes” vote to preserve the existing law.
Leading up to the election, FFAA invested significant staff time into advertising, communications, digital media, and field organizing — eventually contributing $1.5 million to the campaign since 2015. Yes on 3 volunteers had over 100,000 conversations with voters through canvassing efforts led largely in part by FFAA’s VP of Public Engagement, Amy Mello. With FFAA at the helm of the digital program, Yes on 3 raised nearly $850,000 online with over 6,700 unique contributors — an effort spearheaded by FFAA Senior Digital Campaign Manager, Megan Clayton, with graphics and video support from FFAA Director of Graphic Design Jorge Gutierrez and Graphic Design Manager Nichole Cruz. Director of External Communications, Angela Dallara, successfully led the entire earned media strategy for the campaign from start to finish; Associate Director of Campaign Communications, Hannah Willard, also played a key role in helping craft and place hundreds of news stories, op-eds, and LTEs with positive, respectful framing of transgender people.
All efforts came to fruition on election night, when a supermajority of Massachusetts voters — 68 percent — overwhelmingly voted to uphold existing protections. FFAA CEO Masen Davis said:
“This victory is a reminder that broad majorities of Americans support treating transgender people with dignity and respect – and that attempts at the federal level to allow discrimination don’t reflect the values held by most Americans. We’ve permanently reframed what it means to treat transgender people with dignity and respect, and this campaign will serve as a roadmap for future victories.”
Prior to the Massachusetts victory, anti-LGBTQ opponents similarly gathered enough signatures to place on a municipal ballot a potential repeal of Anchorage’s protections for transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations. The Fair Anchorage campaign successfully defended against this dangerous initiative, designated Proposition 1.
Proposition 1 would have redefined municipal law in a way that would have made it impossible for transgender people to go about their daily lives, and which would have invited harassment. Additionally there was no way to enforce a policy which prohibits transgender people from using restrooms and facilities that match who they are; and the local police chief conceded that Proposition 1 was not a priority for the department.
Freedom for All Americans was one of the top contributors to Fair Anchorage and a leading member of the campaign. FFAA served on the executive committee and advised on overall strategy, messaging, field organizing, advertising, digital strategy, and earned media; additionally, FFAA also provided in-kind donations of a campaign website, digital assets and significant staff time — largely the efforts of Angela Dallara, Megan Clayton, and former FFAA senior digital staffer Cameron Tolle. Openly transgender Anchorage residents Lillian Lennon, a college activist, and Denise Sudbeck, a military veteran, served in key campaign advisory roles. Transgender student Col Lockard was also featured in a compelling television ad alongside his father David, calling for a No vote.
In April 2018, Anchorage voters, in a vote-by-mail election, responded No to the fearmongering of anti-LGBTQ opponents, with over 52 percent rejecting Proposition 1. This marked the first-ever win at the ballot box for transgender rights.
Masen Davis said:
“Our triumph in Anchorage shows that advocates for nondiscrimination protections know what it takes to win voters and change hearts and minds. Voters turned out to the polls in record numbers and affirmed their core values of treating all people fairly. Anchorage will serve as a shining example of what we can achieve when we have honest, one-on-one conversations about who transgender people are.”
Finally, in addition to ballot wins on transgender rights, FFAA continues its successful efforts to advance in state legislatures. In 2016, Freedom New Hampshire launched to move a statewide transgender nondiscrimination bill that would ensure protections in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Granite State already had protections for LGB people on the books, but at the time was the only New England state that did not offer comprehensive protections for transgender people from discrimination as well..
FFAA was proud to spearhead the Freedom New Hampshire campaign, advising on overall strategy, messaging, field organizing, digital strategy, and earned media. FFAA also provided in-kind donations of a campaign website, digital assets and significant staff time — including Megan Clayton, Hannah Willard, Angela Dallara, and particularly FFAA Senior Director of Research and Training, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen.
The bill first saw movement in 2016 when it cleared a crucial House committee vote before being tabled by House Speaker Shawn Jasper in March 2017 for the rest of the legislative session. Unbowed, Freedom New Hampshire continued to build and expand its bipartisan coalition, in addition to hosting innovative campaign events such as “Ask a Trans Person Anything” panels, where the public was encouraged to ask questions and get to know their transgender friends and neighbors.
The bill was again introduced in the 2017-2018 legislative session, designated as HB 1319. Notably, incumbent Republican Governor Chris Sununu indicated his support of the bill — showcasing that transgender protections are not a Democratic or Republican issue, but a matter of basic respect and dignity. Again, it cleared a committee vote, this time after over 6 hours of emotional testimony from transgender people and their allies alike. On March 7, 2018, the House voted 195-129 in favor of the bill, moving it to a final vote in the state Senate. On May 2, 2018, the Senate voted 14-10 to pass HB 1319, and on June 8, Governor Sununu signed it into law.
Masen Davis said:
“From coast to coast, the tides are turning toward freedom. New Hampshire’s transgender residents will rest easier tonight, knowing their elected leaders voted to affirm their dignity by passing comprehensive nondiscrimination protections.Our shared triumph in New Hampshire is yet another example that equality is not a partisan issue, but a human issue – and one that resonates deeply with the core values of Americans from all walks of life.”
As 2018 comes to a close, people across the country have raised their voices to state unequivocally that transgender people deserve dignity and respect — and that nondiscrimination protections are a critically important way to guarantee this. Currently, 19 states and over 300 cities have LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in place, with no negative consequences. These state protections are imperative to show that we are building momentum, but we must never lose sight of the larger goal — to generate bipartisan support for a federal comprehensive nondiscrimination bill that will ensure protections for all LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations, no matter what part of the country. The movement we’ve seen this year has made that goal more feasible, but we can’t afford to be complacent and rest on our laurels. We must continue the fight to achieve dignity and equal treatment for all LGBTQ Americans.