Columnist Sara Weinberger: Support human rights and single-payer health care

  • The healthcare.gov website. Dreamstime/TNS

For the Gazette
Published: 10/15/2018 8:29:14 AM

Two important issues for Massachusetts voters have not gotten the attention they deserve. Questions 3 and 4 impact all of us, and it’s important that everyone is informed about them before casting their votes on Nov. 6th.

Massachusetts has led the nation in passing laws that protect basic human rights. We were the first state to legitimize gay marriage, and one of 17 states to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In November, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to overturn Senate Bill 2407, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination law, which went into effect in 2016 and prohibits gender-identity discrimination in public places, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

Polls report that this could be a close vote that would legalize discrimination and take away legally mandated rights. The dangers of citizens being able to take away legal rights by referendum is truly frightening. The rationale for overturning the bill is based on fear, not facts. Keep MA Safe is the ironic name of the main group advocating for a “no” vote, primarily based on unwarranted fears of men disguised as women entering women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, in order to sexually assault women and girls.

Giving voters the opportunity to take away basic human rights by referendum based on propaganda replicates the fear-mongering of the Trump administration and leaves all of us in danger of losing legal rights. Overturning Issue 3 is not just the concern of those who identify as transgendered and their loved ones. It is everyone’s concern.

With all the challenges we are facing in our country right now, it is truly appalling that millions of dollars are being spent by those who want to take away the rights of people they clearly know little about. Equally appalling is the reality that the Freedom for All Coalition, the statewide group advocating to preserve the legal rights of transgendered people, is also having to spend millions of dollars to defend the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination law. These dollars would be better used to educate the public about gender identity.

I grew up in an age when sex was binary. When you were born, people identified you as male or female. When someone gave birth, the first question asked was not, “Is the baby healthy?” Instead, it was, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Thankfully, our culture is changing. Younger people are discarding the notion that gender is binary. Instead, individuals are choosing the pronouns they use to define themselves, and gender is viewed as fluid. I recently asked my daughter if she thought someone we saw on the street was male or female. She looked at me with annoyance as she replied, “Who cares?” Unfortunately, as society becomes more open to multiple forms of gender expression, those who fear change react to return to the way things were.

All of us need to make sure that we protect laws that protect people’s human rights from being overturned by popular vote. It’s in everyone’s best interest to vote YES on Question 3 to uphold Senate Bill 2407.

***

​​​​​​Last April and May, I joined with members of Western Mass Medicare for All to collect signatures to get a non-binding referendum on the November ballot giving voters the opportunity to weigh in on the question of whether they would support single-payer health care in Massachusetts. Getting people to sign my petition was the easiest sell I’ve ever made. Those I spoke with were fed up with rising health care costs and fearful that the stripping away of the Affordable Care Act was going to further erode their access to health care.

We gathered the requisite signatures for the ballot question to appear in six western Mass districts. For years, bills designed to provide accessible, affordable and quality single-payer health care to every resident in the Commonwealth, gathered dust sitting in committee. A “yes” vote on question 4 will give our Massachusetts legislators the message that the time has come to pass a Medicare for All bill.

Contrary to what many believe, Massachusetts does not have universal health care. In fact, more than 200,000 people in this state are not covered by health insurance. When I tell people I’m working to pass Medicare for All in Massachusetts, they usually support the idea, but often their pessimism rises to the surface: “The insurance and medical industries will never let it happen. The federal government won’t let it happen. We can’t afford it.” This kind of defeatist attitude among my friends and among our lawmakers stands in the way of the realization that most of the industrialized world has managed to provide universal health care for its residents.

There are many issues that have to be addressed in order to make sure that Medicare for All legislation will improve health care and pave the way for a system of national health care in the United States. The only way this will happen is to give our legislators a strong message of support for getting a Medicare for All bill, so that it can be thoroughly discussed and debated openly in the House and Senate. Voting YES on Question 4 will convey that message.

​​​​​​Sara Weinberger, of Easthampton, is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


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