Forum to highlight defense of transgender rights

By Jennifer McClain

A forum to draw attention to the need to safeguard newly won transgender rights will be held Wednesday,  Feb. 21  at 7 p.m. at the First Parish Church  in Malden. Sponsored by  Freedom for All Massachusetts, the forum aims to build support for Bill S.735, which went into effect in October, but is now facing a repeal drive.

Bill S.735, which was passed with a supermajority of votes in both legislative chambers, expands protections against discrimination for transgender people and allows transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

While Gov. Charlie Baker was cheered by many when he signed Bill S.735 in May 2016, opponents of the legislation immediately began organizing to put a repeal of the law on a state-wide ballot in November 2018. Opponents include groups such as the the Massachusetts Family Institute,  which has attacked the bill with statements such as, “What we have today is the sacrifice of common sense and the abdication of responsibility by both houses of the legislature and now the Governor.”

To oppose any repeal of Bill S.735, Freedom for All Massachusetts has canvassed in Malden and other communities to draw attention on the need to protect transgender rights.  The group contends that no problems have been reported in the 18 states and more than 200 municipalities that have passed similar laws.

If Bill S.735 is repealed, transgender people could be discriminated against in places of accommodation, according to Matthew Wilder, a representative of Freedom for Massachusetts. This includes, he said,  “any place the public is generally welcome, such as restaurants, retail shops and malls, and hospitals.”

What did Massachusetts Bill S.735 actually do?  It added “gender identity” to the already existing laws on discrimination after the word sex.  In Chapter 72: 92A of the general laws, a sentence was added, which is: Any public accommodation including without limitation any entity that offers the provision of goods, services, or access to the public that lawfully segregates or separates access to such public accommodation or other entity based on a person’s sex shall grant all persons admission to and the full enjoyment of such public accommodation or other entity consistent with the person’s gender identity. 

Legislation strengthening rights of the transgender have sparked a backlash from a number of groups. In Charlotte, N.C., the group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) organized against a law that had given transgender people the right to use the bathroom of their choice. On the Diane Rehm show on May 16, 2016,  Matt Sharp, legal counsel, for Alliance Defending Freedom, said the group was basing his opposition on privacy and First Amendment grounds. However, groups such as the  American Civil Liberties Union and HRC (Human Rights Coalition)  contend that  ADF’s opposition is based on religious beliefs about the immorality of homosexuality.

While Wilder of Freedom for All Massachusetts believes that opposition to Bill S.735 comes from “a small group opposed to transgender equality,” his group plans to run a  state-wide campaign that includes in-person, door to door canvasing, and an aggressive paid media strategy “to reach as many voters as possible.”

“Our campaign is strong because of the thousands of coalition members who have lent their support — including law enforcement officials, advocates for safety and privacy, businesses, and people of faith across Massachusetts,” Wilder said. Malden advocates and the leaders of the First Parish Church  are “very much looking forward to this important community event.”

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