By Isaac Feldberg, news correspondent

United in mutual respect for human difference and passionate defense of their rights, about 50 members of the Boston transgender community gathered in Boston Common in the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 6 to protest a recent initiative aiming to repeal a trans-friendly public accommodations bill that had endeavored to stem discrimination against an often-stigmatized community.  

“Without community, there’s no liberation,” Michelle Tat, one of the rally’s four specified organizers and an executive committee member of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said, praising attendees for their courage in defending the bill while rebuking opponents.

At the rally, which began at 4 p.m. on the steps across Beacon Street from the State House, Tat called on transgender people and allies to band together against a 2018 ballot question submitted by the anti-LGBTQ Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI). The question, which received 34,231 certified signatures following the conservative Christian group’s “Keep MA Safe” campaign, thus ensuring its place on the ballot in two years, will ask voters whether the state should keep or repeal S. 2407.

That bill, passed overwhelmingly by Massachusetts lawmakers in June, permits transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to use public accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that correlate with their gender identity, rather than their anatomical sex, and protects against transphobic discrimination in such facilities.

The MFI has expressed concern that the bill, despite specifically calling for “legal action” against “any person whose assertion of gender identity is for an improper purpose,” nonetheless poses a threat to privacy and safety. This isn’t the first time the state’s LGBTQ community has clashed with the group – it led a failed effort to prohibit same-sex marriage back in 2005.

“This fight [for transgender rights] was never about bathroom use or sexual predators preying on women and children,” Tat, who was one of several speakers at the rally, said. “This is about denial of our existence as trans folx […] To our opposition, I say, ‘Say what you mean.’”

Protester Karolyn Diaz, speaking into a megaphone to protesters, put it more bluntly.

“Who are these people who think they’re keeping MA safe by being transphobic?” they asked.

Tat and other organizers led protesters in chants, as many brandished signs with messages like “Trans Is Beautiful” and “Trans Rights Now.” Some, including protester Jay (a Boston resident and trans man who asked his last name be withheld), were swathed in blue, pink and white transgender pride flags.

“For a lot of people, having this legislation makes us feel safe and happy,” he said. “It’s so important [to protest] as a trans person of color. We have to get our voices out there.”

Protester and Northeastern student Max Fournier, a freshman marine biology major, had choice words for those opposing the bill.

“It’s masked transphobia and fear-mongering,” he said of the MFI’s efforts to repeal the bill. “This isn’t about sexual predation – we had already been using bathrooms in accordance with our gender identity.”

Noting the harassment faced by many trans individuals using public accommodations, Fournier expressed anger at the MFI and other groups opposing the bill.

“If anything, trans people are the most endangered using bathrooms,” he said.

Photo by Alex Melagrano