Metro

Yvonne Abraham

A battle we’ve already waged

QUINCY — Do we really have to go through this all over again, and so soon?

Just a year after a state law was signed extending their rights under the state’s antidiscrimination laws, transgender men and women once again must prove they’re fully human.

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That’s because opponents of transgender rights have put a question on the 2018 ballot repealing the new law — the first statewide vote in the country to roll back transgender protections. And the whole country will be watching blue Massachusetts, to see just how regressive America has become.

Now, instead of persuading legislators to preserve their hard-won rights, transgender people and their allies will be going door to door, asking voters to hear their stories and decide they deserve what all others in this state can take for granted.

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On Sunday afternoon, they canvassed in Quincy, taking the temperature of the voters who will decide their future.

“I want my son to be safe,” said Jessica at a house on East Elm, where a voter listened supportively but wasn’t fully persuaded. Jessica, whose 7-year-old son is transgender, did not want her last name used, to protect him. “I just want him to have the same rights as my 9-year-old son,” she went on. “If transgender people can’t use the restroom, they can’t go out in public.”

What an eternity it seems since July 2016, when the governor signed the public accommodations bill into law, and it seemed like progress on gay rights was unstoppable. Back then, even Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, felt the need to pander, holding up a rainbow flag, arguing that transgender people should be able to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.”

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That stand went the way of all the others. His administration is laying waste to transgender rights. It lifted protections for transgender students. Trump banned transgender men and women from the armed forces, via tweet, blindsiding his military leaders. And last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed a federal government policy that protected transgender workers under the civil rights act.

And now Massachusetts will once again become a battleground.

Despite opponents’ claims, the sky has not fallen here since legislators passed the public accommodations law. The measure does more than allow transgender people to use the restrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify. It also requires that they be allowed access to restaurants, stores, and other places where they might otherwise be refused service. But opponents always focus on the bathrooms. It’s easier to scare people that way.

“We should not require women to sacrifice their privacy for the sake of sexual charades,” reads a recent press release from Keep MA Safe, which is pushing the repeal.

Contrary to opponents’ hysterical warnings, there has been no wave of attacks in public bathrooms by predators masquerading as transgender women. Grasping, they cite the case of a man arrested in Plainville in December for lurking in the ladies’ room of a T.J. Maxx, and photographing a woman in one of the stalls. But if that’s all they’ve got, they’re in trouble. The man wasn’t transgender or even pretending to be.

No, their real problem is that Massachusetts has grown more accepting of transgender people, period. The passage of the new law had a seismic symbolic effect.

“It sent a message, to transgender people and the people who love them, but also to kids . . . that they deserve the same dignity and respect as anybody else,” said Kasey Suffredini, cochair of Freedom Massachusetts, who fought for 10 years to expand the public accommodations law.

For Keep MA Safe, that message is a disaster — one the group desperately wants to undo.

And so all of the people who battled for years for equal rights must heave themselves back into the fray.

This time, they’ll be doing it for transgender people not just in Massachusetts, but across the country. If opponents see protections can be rolled back here, they will be energized to beat them back everywhere.

But we haven’t slid that far. Have we?

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.
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