Militant Journalism

Year of resistance for transgender rights in Massachusetts

PSL and Pride at Work doing train outreach for the “Yes on 3” campaign. Photo: Pride At Work, Eastern Massachusetts

If you happened to ride the train in Boston, Mass., during the fall of 2018, there was a chance you met some energetic community members handing out flyers about an upcoming ballot measure defending the legal rights of transgender people. After seeing a picture of a bigoted flyer found in a Red Line train station circulating on social media, members of the local Pride at Work chapter sprang into action and organized volunteers to hit the trains. Joined by members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and other community members, they ran from car-to-car making pitches in Spanish and English once the doors closed and the wheels began turning. Dylan Citron told Liberation News that they were initially nervous to participate, but after a few tries they became comfortable leading train outreach. “In the five years I’ve lived in Boston, I’ve never seen anyone use trains to get messages across, so I was unsure how our outreach would be received. I have to say, I was absolutely blown away by how warm and encouraging everyone was.” Volunteers were given high fives, hugs, Halloween candy, and even received a round of applause from fellow commuters.

In 2018, transgender people in Massachusetts and across the United States experienced both reactionary attacks and progressive victories. In response to these escalating hostilities, the LGBTQ movement in Massachusetts has unified around broader and more creative tactics from spontaneous rallies to train outreach.

The “Yes on 3” campaign, the re-emergence of a local Pride at Work chapter, and the Boston Transgender Day of Remembrance are a glimpse of the transgender struggle in Massachusetts this past year, each containing important lessons for revolutionary organizers.

A sweeping victory on the ballot

During the 2018 midterm elections in Massachusetts, trans rights were on the chopping block in the form of a statewide ballot question. Protections for transgender people in public accommodations were signed into law by the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate in 2016, specifically adding “gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement.” This past year, opponents of the bill proved just how easy it can be to reverse progressive reforms on a state level by collecting enough signatures to put the question back on the ballot. A repeal would mean that trans people could be forced to leave bathrooms, parks, and even restaurants, hospitals and public transportation.

These so-called “bathroom bills” are nothing new and similar fear campaigns are a common tactic used to scapegoat LGBTQ people. By framing transgender people as a threat to women and children, the ruling class reactionaries and their supporters attempt to shroud the hatred that these bills truly represent. For this reason, this legislation not only affects transgender people in Massachusetts, but the outcome would also set a strong precedent for similar attacks in other states.

Thousands of volunteers, organized mainly by Freedom for All Massachusetts, contributed an immense amount of time and energy to the “Yes on 3” campaign. Together with Freedom for All staff, they called two million residents, securing nearly 100,000 confirmed ‘yes’ votes in advance of the election. Volunteers also went door-to-door through neighborhoods across Massachusetts to ensure voters had face-to-face conversations with fellow community members who care deeply about defending trans rights.

With the disturbing news of Trump’s leaked memo foreshadowing a federal genital-based definition of sex, several local trans community members alongside transgender PSL  members and other organizers moved quickly to call a rally in support of transgender rights on Oct. 28, 2018. Under the banner of “Yes on 3” and “#WeWontBeErased,” thousands of trans people and allies came to rally with a clear message that transgender people exist and will fight back. “Yes on 3” organizer Taj Smith told Liberation News, “Massachusetts has a chance to show the country and the world that at least here, trans people are human.”

After many grueling months of organizing and a stressful election day, the ballot measure passed with more than two-thirds of the vote across the state. Some districts showed a truly overwhelming majority, such as 89.9 percent of Cambridge residents voting to protect transgender rights.

New local Pride at Work chapter continues to grow

Photo: Pride At Work, Eastern Massachusetts

This year was also marked by the revitalization of Pride At Work’s Eastern Massachusetts branch. Pride at Work is the official LGBTQ caucus of The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), fighting for LGBTQ rights in unions and the workplace. From retail workers to dog walkers to grad workers to janitors, the new Pride at Work branch has been on the front lines providing material support to a wide variety of labor struggles.

During the national Marriott hotel strike, Pride at Work organized LGBTQ labor contingents and donated to the strike fund. Before the Massachusetts midterms, members created and distributed targeted literature to thousands of union members in support of the “Yes on 3” campaign. The local branch understands that the present so-called “gig economy” and the escalation of anti-union rhetoric and legislation, such as the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court ruling, means that many LGBTQ workers might not be able to formally unionize — but nothing can stop them from building worker power at their jobs through concerted collective action!

United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1596 member Kaleigh O’Keefe told Liberation News: “Pride at Work provided me with the education and tools I needed to get my coworkers organized. They sat down with me every week and got on calls, got me in touch with my union representative, helped me understand our contract language, and taught me the best strategies for one-on-one conversations with my coworkers. Our union is stronger than it’s been in over a decade and our bargaining committee is all young queer and transgender people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that more and more queer and trans workers are organizing at their jobs and joining unions. The more they try to beat us down, the more we want to fight back.”

It all started here: Transgender Day of Remembrance

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence lead the Boston Transgender Day of Remembrance March, Nov. 18, 2018. Photo: Liberation News

The original Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was organized in response to the 1998 murder of a Black trans woman Rita Hester in Allston, Mass. Two decades later, transgender organizers and activists continue to host TDoRs across the world in honor of all the lives lost to anti-transgender violence.

The Boston branch of the PSL joined together with members of Fenway Health, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), Boston Alliance of LGBTQ Youth (BAGLY), Boston Health Care for the Homeless (BHCH), Pride at Work (PAW), and other community members to plan the Boston area TDoR event on Nov. 18, 2018. To remember Rita in the historical tradition of TDoR, participants took the streets of Downtown Boston with candles and photos of Rita, shouting chants such as “We’re here! We’re queer! We’re organized, don’t mess with us!” and “We Remember Rita Hester!” After the march, a vigil and potluck was held at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul featuring speakers from the Boston transgender homeless community, local performers, community organizers, and a reading of the names of all the transgender lives lost to violence this year.

One of the BHCH speakers, Natasha Angelica Darkchilde, told Liberation News: “They will never know us without such events. It brings us together to teach others and remind ourselves we are not alone. That we are more than they know. We are people.”

The event was as deeply moving as it was charitable. Hundreds of community members attended and over $10,000 was raised for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Transgender Program and the Massachusetts Transgender Emergency Fund — far more than what had been raised in previous years. The increase of both donations and attendance is a reflection of the transgender community’s growing strength and support within Massachusetts.

The struggle continues!

Despite the grim conditions and threats facing transgender people today, the events of 2018 display the overwhelming support and growing solidarity within the broader LGBTQ community and their allies for transgender rights and equality. The Boston Branch of the PSL organized diligently alongside Freedom for All Massachusetts, Pride at Work and the Boston TDoR Committee because we believe that an attack on transgender people is an attack on the entire working class. The PSL fights for progressive reforms because they are essential to the survival of working-class communities. We understand that it is our duty as revolutionaries to engage in struggles that affect working-class people in order to build revolutionary consciousness within the center of western imperialism. Although the struggle for trans liberation is far from over, we enter 2019 instilled with a revitalized sense of revolutionary optimism, inspired and energized by the collective power that transgender people wield when we get organized and fight together.

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