Dr. Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” and in our congregation, Laura Ruth and I have been playing on those words in the past few months. In the past few weeks, though, Dr. West’s words came into sharper focus for me through the Yes on 3 campaign. A few weeks ago I attended the Transgender Education Day interfaith event at Temple Israel in Boston. Last night I was at the Congregational Church of Needham at the “Why Yes on 3?” event featuring Sarah McBride, the national press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign. Over and over again in these weeks, the common thread has been person after person advocating for the right of transpersons to exist in public spaces, free from harassment or harm.
As a queer, femme-identified cisgender (not trans) white female, the vigilance I feel required to exercise in order to move through the world is real, but at least on paper, there are protections in place for me, should (God forbid) harm befall me. I generally hate using the South as a foil to our sense of Massachusetts as a bastion of liberty (because all the -isms that are so readily apparent in southern states are just as deeply rooted but far less readily visible here), but as a native southerner, these are the experiences that form and inform my passion for the work. A year and a half ago, when my grandfather died, my newly-out-as-transmasculine partner and I flew to Arkansas. We rented a car and drove through the hills of Arkansas between my mother’s house and the place where my grandfather’s funeral and burial would be. On our way from the funeral back to my mom’s house, Auggie had to use the restroom. The winding two-lane highway didn’t offer any bright service stations or even state-sponsored rest stops. The tiny gas station that was our only option for miles looked straight out of Deliverance. Auggie didn’t even have to ask if I would go inside with them; we had months earlier, on another visit to Arkansas, had the hard conversation about how to help them feel safe. On that previous trip, Auggie had felt itchy to move one wintry afternoon, and in the woods of northern Arkansas, Walmart offers a place to go, to wander indoors, to get a snack and try on weird hats. They went alone to one of the local Walmarts and came home visibly shaken. They wanted us to make a plan around their safety. To feel safe, Auggie would not be alone in public unless we knew the place was queer-friendly, and they also asked me to accompany them when they needed to use public restrooms (I can only imagine the indignity of feeling that my safety depends on using my partner as a bathroom buddy). Because we’d discussed it months prior, it was already understood when we pulled into the Deliverance gas station that I was the femme and the Arkansan, and I wasn’t leaving their side. The gruff men inside glared from beneath their caps as we walked in. Auggie used the restroom, and we (well, I—at Auggie’s request) bought some kitschy souvenirs and tried, unsuccessfully, to make small talk. The whole thing was uneventful, except for my heart in my throat. I could not wait to get back to the car, back to my parents’ house, and back to Boston.
Over time, through many conversations with my partner and through all the choices we make for safety’s sake when spending time in public, I have learned how much legal protections impact my anxiety level…which means I can only imagine the difference it makes for transfolx. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned how my cis-femme fears only exacerbate the worries of my trans partner, the one who actually moves through the world in a masculine-of-center body. When we vacationed in North Carolina, the first state to pass a so-called “bathroom bill,” it was a place where I knew transphobia had been legislated, not to mention it was a southern state with which I was not familiar and where I had no family or friends. That vacation was a different kind of visit to the south than going to the town where I grew up, where we usually spend much of our time in public surrounded by family. The NC laws caused us a lot of anxiety during our stay. If Auggie used the bathroom that corresponds to the “sex” listed on their driver’s license, which is the law, is that going to be unsafe for them if it looks like a guy is going into the women’s room behind a dad’s young daughter? Or, does Auggie “pass” enough to justify using the men’s room? Would that be safer or would that be less safe? And if they use the men’s room, how long do I wait before I panic? Our vacation was dotted with moments like this—where are we, do we see other visibly queer couples, do we see a rainbow flag or a confederate flag, how safe is Auggie, how safe are we?
In Massachusetts, it’s not that trans persons don’t have to consider which bathroom to use, or which healthcare provider to work with, or which spaces will be welcoming. No matter where a trans person lives, the second they leave their home, the thousands of choices cis people make without flinching can become big deals. The current law protects trans persons, so that they can make decisions knowing they are protected. They can’t be kicked off the T, or ejected from a locker room, or discriminated against at the doctor. This law doesn’t inherently change the minds of people who think either a) trans people are predators or b) predators will use transness to prey on innocent people—neither of which have proven true since the law was passed, by the way (and a cursory Google search can point you to many surveys and studies indicating that transpersons are more likely than cispersons to be victims of harassment in restrooms)—but it does change the experience of a world that was once unwelcoming. Possibilities open before one’s eyes: freedom of movement, to go to the gym, to ride the T, to choose a bathroom that feels comfortable, to receive competent and respectful medical care. Every time my partner and I leave Massachusetts, my hypervigilance goes through the roof, adversely affecting almost every adventure we have.
As the partner of a transperson, Question 3 is deeply personal to me. As a pastor and an advocate for trans equality, my answer to Question 3 is not just about my partner—it is about my community, my congregation, and most of all, my faith. It brings to mind the psalmist’s words: “I will both lie down and sleep in peace/for You alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety (Psalm 4:8 NRSV).” Safety–the heart of the protections bill, the difference between living in fear or living in love. Opponents of Yes on 3 are not wrong when they say this is an issue of safety, especially for our children; they are wrong about which children are most at risk. Trans persons in general and trans youth specifically are exponentially more likely to be harassed in public spaces from bathrooms to schools and everywhere in between. Trans persons in general and trans youth specifically have exponentially higher rates of depression and suicidality.
Other states are watching us, we are told time and again. You know what? I want them to be. I want them to see the positive impact of legal protections on the quality of life for trans persons with no discernible detriment to public safety and a huge boost to the safety of trans persons. Scripture says “perfect love casts out fear.” I want every state in this country to see what it looks like when fear has no place in the ballot box so that love is legislated into justice. I want everyone watching this ballot initiative to see that We the People are building the beloved community, one person, one community, one state at a time. I want them to know we are relentless in our pursuit of justice. Our work is not done until we see and protect the image of God in every person—of every gender, every race, every sexual orientation, every class, and every age—in every state. We will not rest until every person can lie down in safety in a home, use public transit in safety, use their name and pronouns in school in safety, and yes, use the restroom in safety. For ourselves and our children, I support #yeson3.