Close to 100 people gathered at South Church the evening of May 9 to participate in a discussion about protection of transgender rights that will be on the state ballot in November.
Rev. Alex Shea Will, associate pastor, welcomed the group to the forum that was co-sponsored by Freedom for All Massachusetts and LGBTQ+ Welcoming Communities of Faith.
The ballot question will seek to repeal the legislation that became effective in October 2016 which added “gender identity” to the identified groups protected from discrimination in public accommodations. This legislation received overwhelming support from Massachusetts senators and representatives before being signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker. Nationwide, there have been no reported increases in public safety incidents in the 18 states, including Massachusetts, and over 200 municipalities which have included transgender people in their nondiscrimination laws.
David Topping, field director, and Taj Smith, faith organizing director, from Freedom for All Massachusetts, led the discussion which provided information about the ballot question. Attendees broke into small groups to share their names, why they had come to the forum and what they hoped to learn. Topping and Smith then explained the focus of the campaign and role-played the way conversations can be initiated to provide information and promote greater understanding about the need to uphold the existing law.
Freedom for All Massachusetts is a bipartisan coalition of families, safety advocates, faith leaders, businesses and others standing together to uphold dignity and respect for transgender people in November.
Welcoming Faiths was formed in 2011 and includes 21 member congregations in the Merrimack Valley representing Episcopal, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, and Catholic faiths; nine of these congregations are in Andover and North Andover. Its mission is to promote equality and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+ individuals and families and to reach out and assist those seeking a spiritual home.
The congregations also strive to increase awareness of issues of equality and justice for LGBTQ+ persons and to serve as beacons of fairness and loving affirmations in the Merrimack Valley and beyond.
Over the past 7 years, Welcoming Faiths has had tables at town and city events such as Andover Day and the Lowell Folk Festival to distribute literature and engage in conversation. Previous panel discussions include last fall’s “Meet Your Transgender Neighbors,” co-sponsored with Memorial Hall Library and “Coming Out and Keeping the Faith” several years ago.