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Massachusetts Keeps Trans Protections

State rejects bid to repeal law providing for equality in public accommodations. Higher ed leaders pushed to keep law. In Seattle, voters approve property tax hike to pay for free community college.

November 7, 2018
 
Harvard medical students at a rally to keep state law protecting transgender people

Massachusetts voters on Tuesday voted to keep a state law that bars discrimination based on gender identity in access to public facilities. The Associated Press reported that about two-thirds of state voters backed the law.

Had voters repealed the law, the exact impact on higher education was unclear. Many colleges have said that they intended to preserve policies barring discrimination against transgender people on their campuses. But academic leaders feared that the state would have sent a hostile message to transgender people and others about a lack of support for inclusiveness. In North Carolina, colleges faced a backlash from many prospective students and faculty members over a law dubbed the "bathroom bill" -- since repealed -- that barred transgender people from using public facilities other than those aligned with their legal gender at birth.

The leaders of the University of Massachusetts System and its campuses issued a letter urging state voters to keep the law, and noted that UMass policies could have faced challenges had the repeal been approved.

"The state’s current public accommodation law insures that transgender and gender-nonconforming persons can choose to use public restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity without fear of discrimination. It protects them from harassment in public places and preserves their dignity and safety," said the letter. "Present UMass policy assures that all members of our campus communities can choose a restroom or locker room consistent with their gender identity. Repealing the provision in the state law protecting those rights would make current state law inconsistent with UMass policy, which could result in legal challenges to UMass. Repealing the provision could also create confusion among university community members and guests, including prospective students, about rights for transgender and gender-nonconforming persons on our public university campuses."

Many private colleges also urged voters to keep the law. And students have organized rallies to keep the law -- and to oppose moves by the Trump administration to eliminate the legal status of transgender people. The photo above shows medical students at Harvard University, who held a rally against the repeal of the state law (a yes vote on the ballot kept the law in place).

Free Community College in Seattle

Voters in Seattle approved an increase in the property tax of $620 million over seven years to provide free community college for all graduates of the Seattle Public Schools. Only $40.7 million from the tax would pay for free community college, while the rest would support various elementary and secondary school efforts. The Seattle Times reported that more than two-thirds of voters approved the measure.

A backgrounder in The Seattle Times notes arguments in favor of the new program (encouraging more low-income students to go to college) and against it (some argued that it would be better to focus funds on low-income students, some of whom already are eligible for aid that would effectively make community college free). The program is a major priority of Mayor Jenn Durkan. KIRO Radio ran this discussion with an advocate and critic of the program.

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