On June 30, it was announced that an anti-trans measure in Montana failed to collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November. This is the second time in recent months that those who oppose transgender equality have failed in their efforts to use the ballot to move their agenda forward in a state many think of as conservative.
The anti-trans initiative, I-183, was thought up by the Montana Family Foundation. It would have forced people to use the public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that align with the gender listed on their original birth certificate. This law would have made public spaces, like schools, work places, and parks unsafe for transgender and non-binary Montanans. It also would have jeopardized all Montanans’ privacy — anyone entering a public space might have been forced to show paperwork proving their gender to anyone who asked.
The ACLU of Montana and other Montana organizations joined forces as part of the Free and Fair Montana coalition to oppose I-183. As a part of the effort, the ACLU challenged the language of the original petition in court. We were successful, causing the signature collection campaign to start over. Then we filed suit on behalf of transgender and non-binary residents of Montana saying that I-183 was unconstitutional.
But the success in Montana, as in Washington State and Anchorage, was ultimately made possible by the leadership of members of the transgender community, who stood up to fight against bad public policy. Through the Trans Visible Montana campaign, for example, transgender and non-binary Montanans were introduced to their neighbors and had the opportunity to explain the harmful impact a law like I-183 would have on the state.
The lessons from Washington State, Anchorage and Montana are clear. If we want to beat back anti-trans initiatives and legislation, the efforts have to be led by transgender people who can share their stories with voters.
And voters are clearly ready and willing to listen.
Our success in Montana is not the end of the story. In November, voters in Massachusetts will be asked to repeal a two-year-old state law that protects transgender people from non-discrimination in public accommodations, including bathrooms and locker rooms. The ACLU and the Freedom for All Massachusetts coalition are fighting for a “Yes” vote in Massachusetts to protect the nondiscrimination law. This coalition understands that our response must be to tackle myths head on and empower trans leaders and voices.
I'm proud of my home state for joining the growing list of states around the country that have rejected these kinds of attacks on transgender people. I believe that come November, Massachusetts voters will add their state to that list, too.