Protecting transgender rights
Vote yes on Massachusetts ballot question 3.
In 2016, Massachusetts updated the state’s nondiscrimination laws to include protections for transgender people in public spaces. Just weeks after the passage of this legislation, anti-trans activists gathered enough signatures on a petition to hold a veto referendum on the new law, resulting in Question 3 on this year’s ballot. The question is worded, confusingly, such that voting yes will mean that the law stays in place as it is. But voting no will mean that transgender people lose protection from discrimination in schools, restaurants, workplaces, and even hospitals. This is the first time in U.S. history that a trans nondiscrimination law has been up for a statewide vote.
After the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put forward a definition of gender as a set of “immutable biological traits” last week, Question 3 has become even more important, because that definition would effectively deny that trans people exist. So it’s more important than ever that Massachusetts strongly defends our trans community with an overwhelming Yes on 3 vote.
We’re Max and Zoe. We want to share why every Yes on 3 vote matters.
My name is Max Evans, and I am a 2018 graduate. I started to question my gender identity the summer before senior year. I began testing the name Max and found support at MIT: my friends did their best with the change, 2.009 listed me as Max on all of the forms, and I used the 2.009 “mini-me” stuffed animals to test different pronouns on “Mini-Max”, settling on He/Him. MIT provided a home for me as Max.
Graduating from MIT was terrifying. Here, I questioned my sexuality, romantic orientation, and gender identity in a place that I knew would always accept me. When looking for jobs, I applied for 30 in a month because I was scared of not finding one that would accept me. My suspicions were confirmed: I had interviewers who were shocked to find an afab (assigned female at birth) person. I had interviewers to whom I did not feel safe disclosing that I was trans, for fear of not getting the job.
Once I found a job, I browsed endless apartment listings to find my new home. Several were not comfortable with a trans guy as a roommate. One landlord rolled her eyes when I told her I was Max.
I’m lucky. I now have a job at which I feel safe and found an apartment with four lovely roommates who bake together and make puns with me. And with our current nondiscrimination law, I can feel a little bit safer. In interviews, in apartments, and on the bus to work, I know that if there were a serious incident, the law would stand behind me and my rights.
But there were so many things that could have gone wrong. From difficult conversations about pronouns to strangers on public transportation who feel “offended” by my floral blazer, I’m acutely aware of my trans identity everywhere I go. And if Massachusetts votes No on 3, someone in my position may never find a job or an apartment.
My name is Zoe and, like Max, I am terrified. My younger brother lives here in Cambridge and is trans. If this ballot question fails, he may lose his rights.
Opponents point to made-up images of little girls threatened by shadows in bathrooms — but nothing in the existing nondiscrimination law or the ballot question makes terrorizing kids in a bathroom legal. In the two years since its passage, there has been no increase in safety issues. These protections give trans people in our Commonwealth the right to live their everyday lives far beyond the bathroom without being turned away from a business, refused service by government officials, or evicted from their home just because of who they are.
What’s frightening to me is how many people don’t even know that this issue is on the ballot. We take for granted that Massachusetts is a liberal state and that trans people are safe here. I’m outraged that a petition signed by a few thousand people could change that.
Today, only 19 states have laws specifically protecting trans people, so it is important that Massachusetts defeat this attempted veto by a wide margin. Nationwide, this question is seen as a testing ground — if the vote is close, it signals to anti-trans activists that a referendum approach to overturn trans rights is worth pursuing. Voting Yes on 3 means our nondiscrimination law will remain in Massachusetts. It means that your fellow students can eat dinner and get medical treatment at hospitals without being turned away based on their gender identity.
The MIT community and Massachusetts as a whole have a responsibility to set a precedent for other states and to protect our trans neighbors, classmates, friends, and loved ones. We need to vote to protect the civil rights of people of all gender identities. We need to ensure trans people feel safe calling Massachusetts home. We need to cast as many ballots as we can to show anti-trans activists their scare tactics have no place here. We all need to vote Yes on 3.
Max Evans is a member of the MIT Class of 2018. Zoe Levitt is a member of the MIT Class of 2021.