Two Years Ago, Transgender Rights Became Law in MA: We Must Now Retain These Protections

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Pride Month is over, but a conversation is just beginning in our communities about what's being called the most controversial ballot question this Election Day: the question of whether to continue upholding our Commonwealth's transgender protections law.

Courtesy photo

Krina Patel is a Jamaica Plain resident, the coalition director for Freedom for All Massachusetts, and the mother of a young son.

This weekend marks the anniversary of the law, which passed in the legislature two years ago and went into effect in October 2016. The law ensured basic protections for transgender people from discrimination in public places -- such as restaurants, stores, and doctors' offices -- and, yes, it includes protections in restrooms as well. Shortly after the law went into effect, a small but vocal group collected the small number of signatures needed to force it onto the ballot this November.

Last week, dozens of local Jamaica Plain residents came together to have a very honest conversation here in our own backyard about what this law means and who it affects. State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and other public officials spoke at the local forum, alongside residents like Kaden Mohamed, a young transgender man who is directly impacted by the law.

As Coalition Director for Freedom for All Massachusetts, it's my job to engage more than 1,000 organizations and influencers across the state that have publicly expressed support for this law. I work everyday with our state's leading experts -- from the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association to the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence -- who know that this law helps our communities and harms no one. I've been blown away by the depth of support from our state's leaders.

Opponents of the law will try to paint it as a threat to safety in restrooms. But the truth is, we haven't seen any increase in public safety incidents as a result of this law. It has been in effect for two years, and the sky hasn't fallen. That's why police officers and local women's organizations like the YWCA passionately support it. Anyone who commits a crime in a restroom is arrested and prosecuted, regardless of whether that person is transgender. This law hasn't changed that. What it has done is make our state a better place by making transgender people and youth feel more welcome -- and it has sent a positive message that discrimination and harassment have no place in our Commonwealth.

I myself do not identify as transgender. My husband and I just celebrated our three-year wedding anniversary, and we are raising a young son. Our family doesn't have any personal investment in this cause. But I came to feel strongly about this issue because I met people that I've come to care about who are transgender -- friends and coworkers and neighbors. People like Kaden, and people like my personal trainer, Justice Williams, who is a transgender man. This law ensures that people like Kaden and Justice can go about their lives with basic dignity and respect, without fearing humiliation or shame.

As a mother, I want my young son to grow up in a world where everyone is treated fairly. I want him to know that no matter who he is, he will be supported and accepted. And I want him to know that it is never okay to treat others differently simply because their experience is different than his. That's what this law is all about.

It's understandable that people have a lot of questions about what the transgender nondiscrimination law does. Not everyone has had the experience of meeting a transgender person one-on-one. I myself didn't always understand what it means to be transgender, either. That's why town halls like the one we hosted last week are so important. But at the end of the day, we can all agree that no one should face discrimination or harassment because of who they are.

I hope that when people consider how to vote this Election Day, they'll remember that we need more love and acceptance in our state, and less fear, intimidation, and discrimination. I hope residents of my hometown in Jamaica Plain do the right thing, affirm basic protections for our transgender friends and neighbors, and vote yes to uphold our transgender nondiscrimination law.

Krina Patel is a Jamaica Plain resident, the coalition director for Freedom for All Massachusetts, and the mother of a young son.