Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Keep MA Humane


For the Gazette
Published: 10/5/2018 8:51:08 AM

This is not my first column for the Gazette, yet it feels to be a first of sorts because I have joined the team of monthly columnists for the paper. In previous guest columns, I have written about social justice issues and health care advocacy. A recurring focus has been LGBTQ rights.

I have lived in or around Northampton since 1982 (except for three wonderful years in San Francisco in the early 1990s). The transient nature of my childhood is unlike my adulthood as my sense of home and roots lie only in western Massachusetts. I do not take it for granted.

In much of this region, it is commonly accepted to strive for justice and equality for all, to believe in marriage equality, to have compassion and to act on it for refugees, to work to understand and embrace the intersectionality of causes, and to preserve land and to fight for clean air and water.

Here, people with racist, sexist and homophobic views are reticent to speak up for fear of losing friends or jobs, while in over half of our states, LGBTQ people have few legal protections except for marriage equality. Bigotry is somewhat acceptable in many of those places.

My development as a confident woman who speaks up against injustice may not have progressed in a more challenging environment. I am in awe of people who live in difficult places working for justice despite ridicule and threats of all kinds. I also know there is still much work to be done here.

If you are wondering why this column is needed, here are some things to consider. In Massachusetts, Donald Trump received around 33% of the votes cast for president. His history of racism, his history of sexual harassment and assaults, his incompetence (numerous bankruptcy filings and failed businesses), his history of stiffing contractors and workers who built his empire, and his general rich white entitlement issues were all known to the public. Massachusetts was and is bluer than most, but we are not immune to influences of racism, bigoted propaganda and political regression.

A current example is the critical issue of transgender rights. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law legislation that was passed by the Democrat-led Legislature in 2016 to extend the rights of public accommodation to transgender individuals. New England’s major sports teams, civil rights groups, and a broad range of other organizations supported the legislation. 

Unfortunately, bigotry led a group that calls itself “Keep MA Safe” to collect over 32,000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot this November to repeal the law. They are using fear tactics without shame. They purport that sex offenders and nefarious criminals will prey upon unsuspecting women and children in public restrooms. In their fear-mongering rhetoric, they neglect to inform the public about the severe penalties that were written into the law to convict people who do not follow the law as it is intended.

The momentum for Question 3 on the ballot originates from the anti-transgender rights people; therefore, it is imperative that we take this seriously and vote YES to keep the rights in place. If they got 32,000 people to agree to potentially revoke this equal right, we can assume the numbers of people voting will be substantially larger given the campaign they are running.  

“Keep MA Safe” reminds me too much of “Make America Great Again.” The slogans imply there is a problem. They prey upon ignorance. In reality, it is often unsafe to be transgender. Verbal, physical and sexual violence rates against transgender people are significantly higher than they are against the general population. Where are transgender people likely to be subjected to violence? In public restrooms, for one.   The other side has twisted this to suggest the victims are perpetrators.  I know transgender people who don’t drink water on trips because they are afraid they will have to use a public restroom. At its core, this issue is about basic compassion, dignity and fairness.

You do not have to know or understand transgender people to embrace principles of equality and kindness. If you want to learn more, you can visit or

The future, quality of life and safety of Massachusetts transgender residents are at risk. On November 6, Vote YES on Question 3.

J.M. Sorrell has served as a wedding officiant for hundreds of couples from all walks of life since 2004, and she is the spokesperson for Noho Pride in Northampton. She is a feminist first — with a core belief in the intersectionality of social, economic and environmental justice issues.

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