In December, we saw some significant good news out of Massachusetts: the anti-LGBT organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) voluntarily withdrew a lawsuit they filed in October that would have created an unprecedented, extraordinary exemption to Massachusetts’ statewide nondiscrimination law that was updated this past year to include protections for transgender people in public places.
The lawsuit sought to exempt four plaintiff churches from complying with the law even when engaging in public, commercial and secular activities open to all. Its dismissal is a victory for fairness and equality. The lawsuit was baseless because the Commonwealth’s long standing nondiscrimination laws, including the transgender protections update, does nothing to infringe on the freedom of congregations, clergy, and people of faith to practice their beliefs.
The truth is, we all value the freedom of religion.
That’s why it is guaranteed and already protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution—nothing can change that. That’s also why, as part of the Freedom Massachusetts campaign, we made it a priority this past year to seek out affirming churches, congregations and clergy leaders to make the case for why people of faith support transgender protections.
We recruited more than 350 faith leaders and congregations to join us in our campaign, who hosted a Faith Weekend of Action in April in support of the bill, stating:
We believe in treating others the way we’d like to be treated…We should all be treated equally under the law. As Faith Leaders we are called to take a stand for those who face discrimination to repudiate acts of prejudice. The [transgender protections law] extends basic civil rights to those who too often live in fear of harm.
Their support helped push legislators to overwhelmingly pass the bill by a bipartisan supermajority in both chambers over the summer. The update to the law officially went into effect on October 1.
And just two weeks after that, we held a press conference at King’s Chapel in Boston—the first Unitarian church in the country, founded 1686—with dozens of clergy leaders in attendance.
The program was filled with people of faith speaking out about their continued support for the law.
The impact of our win in the lawsuit was especially welcome and timely in the midst of the holiday season. I was raised Catholic and went to church regularly growing up with my family. When I came out as a transgender man, I was lucky and incredibly grateful that my family accepted me for who I am and has supported me throughout my journey of realizing my authentic self. It made the difference to know that they had my back.
Too many transgender people do not have that experience. I am so fortunate that my family believes in the Golden Rule—treating others as you would want to be treated. I hope we can come to a day where all transgender people are as lucky as me to have families who love them unconditionally, and I’m inspired by faith leaders who speak out for transgender equality—not in spite of their faith, but because of it.
We will be working harder than ever in 2017 to continue growing support for transgender equality in Massachusetts. We will be working throughout the state to continue raising awareness about our friends, family members, co-workers and fellow worshipers who are transgender, the discrimination we face, and why protection from discrimination is so important.
We are building our coalition stronger and more unified than ever.
We hope that we’ll continue to see support increase as public understanding grows about what it means to be transgender, including among people of faith.
Photo provided by Freedom for All Americans