Spotlight on Yes on 3: Freedom for All Massachusetts
Earlier this month, Massachusetts’s transgender antidiscrimination law faced a first-of-its-kind ballot question less than two years after it had gone into effect. Though the dark possibility of a setback for transgender rights in the Commonwealth loomed large, it also brought a chance for Massachusetts to make history as the first state to uphold transgender rights by a popular vote.
That’s exactly what happened, thanks in large part to Yes on 3: Freedom for All Massachusetts.
The Yes on 3 campaign was the shared effort of a broad coalition of more than 1,500 organizations and influencers. The group convened to rally support for the transgender antidiscrimination law, which provides protections for transgender individuals from discrimination in public places such as restaurants, stores, and doctors’ offices. The coalition’s members ranged from individuals in the community to businesses, nonprofits, law enforcement, elected and public officials, faith leaders, labor unions, sports teams and more. The Boston Bar Association served as a member of the Coalition Leadership Committee.
Yes on 3 was also a grassroots effort, engaging more than 4,000 volunteers in canvassing, phone banks, and door-knocking to raise awareness and dispel myths about the public safety impact of safeguarding transgender rights. In the end, campaign staff and volunteers had more than 100,000 conversations with Massachusetts voters.
“The most important priority for the campaign was to ensure that we were centered on introducing Massachusetts voters to who transgender people are,” said Kasey Suffredini, campaign co-chair of Yes on 3. “That meant centering transgender people as leaders on the ground, and centering transgender voices in our advertising and communications, in the context of their families and loved ones. These basic protections are a simple question of treating all people with dignity and respect, including transgender people. We debunked any notion that these protections threaten the safety of others by highlighting public safety experts who could point to the facts. And we reached voters in every way we could — from TV ads to door knocking to phone calls to canvasses in all parts of the state.”
The campaign also focused on educating and energizing those who may not have understood the significance of the ballot question prior to speaking with a volunteer.
The campaign’s two co-chairs, Suffredini and Mason Dunn, are both transgender, as are half of the members of the Yes on 3 executive committee. The Yes on 3 campaign was the first organized effort of its size to educate voters on transgender rights, led by transgender people, in history.
“The victory for Yes on 3 was the culmination of the largest campaign for transgender rights in any state in U.S. history,” said Mason Dunn, Yes on 3 campaign co-chair. “Transgender people, their families, and their allies spent weeks, months, and years having conversations with voters and building understanding about what it means to be transgender, and tackling myths and misconceptions head-on. We knew how high the stakes were, and staff and volunteers never took anything for granted, pouring every ounce of effort they had into this work.”
Advocates spent decades working toward the passage of the transgender rights law in 2016, only to have it challenged at the polls a short time later. Yes on 3 soon proved facts and compassion to be more powerful than misinformation and fear. On November 6, ballot question 3 passed with approximately 68% of voters keeping the transgender nondiscrimination law in place. Yes on 3’s victory party was emotionally charged as supporters recognized the historic significance of the win.
“When we announced the news at our Election Night watch party, everyone was elated, and many people burst into tears of happiness,” added Suffredini. “So many people showed tremendous bravery throughout this campaign in sharing their stories publicly and making themselves vulnerable for a larger cause in a fight that they never asked for, and it was all worth it.
The Boston Bar Association’s Empowerment Award recognizes a powerful advocate working to create systemic change in the wider community, advancing civil rights, access to justice and diversity and inclusion, and amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups. Yes on 3: Freedom for All Massachusetts will receive this award at the Beacon Award for Diversity & Inclusion ceremony on December 6.