In an era where our society’s most vulnerable people are under constant attack, some voters in Alaska are saying “no” to an anti-trans law. The Associated Press reports that Anchorage, Alaska voters have rejected a referendum known as Proposition 1 that would have repealed basic protections for trans people using public bathrooms. The anti-trans bathroom law’s defeat in Anchorage marks the very first time US voters have rejected a so-called “bathroom bill.”
The referendum vote was over an ordinance passed in 2015 that legally allowed people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, and not forcing them to use the bathroom designated for the gender they were assigned at birth. In-person and mail voting on the referendum wrapped up on April 3 and, with the majority of votes already counted, it’s a clear victory for those opposed to the repeal.
Opposition to the referendum was largely successful thanks to organizing by Fair Anchorage, a bi-partisan campaign dedicated to fighting the anti-trans referendum.
“This groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind victory could never have happened without the hard work and courage of transgender people and their families in Anchorage who shared their experiences and stories of how Prop 1 would impact them,” Fair Anchorage campaign manager Kati Ward said in a statement. “This is a victory not only for transgender people, but for their allies and everyone who is proud to call Anchorage a welcoming place,” Ward added.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund, said of the Anchorage victory in a statement last week that, “The voters of Anchorage have clearly seen this proposition for what it was—a direct attack on the civil liberties of city residents. It seems every week makes it clearer that such discriminatory measures are opposed by all but the most fringe elements of our society.”
The proposition was brought to the table by Alaska Family Action. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups, reported last year that Alaska Family Action was coordinating with “anti-LGBT extremists” in order to repeal Anchorage’s existing bathroom laws. Alaska Family Action and its partners launched a campaign based entirely on false facts and bigoted attacks on trans people, and according to TIME, raised only $140,000 for their efforts compared to the opposition’s $826,000.
Eli Erlick, director of Trans Student Educational Resources tells Brit + Co that the intentions of these so-called bathroom bills are to hurt trans people.
“Reactionaries’ use of bathrooms is an attempt to fear-monger against transgender people,” Erlick says. Far-right groups such as Alaska Family Action falsely argue that trans people are a risk to cisgender people in bathrooms, but Erlick says that just isn’t true.
“Transgender people are much more likely to be attacked in restrooms than we are to attack anyone,” she says.
The victory in Anchorage is a first for anti-trans bathroom laws that citizens have been able to vote on. Anti-trans groups and politicians started using public bathrooms as a battleground for trans rights after some locales started implementing gender-neutral bathroom policies in 2014.
A 2016 review of trans bathroom laws and policies published in Mother Jones noted that universities around the country started making their bathrooms gender-neutral in between 2012 and 2013; in 2014, the city of Austin began requiring gender-neutral signage for single-occupancy public restrooms. These protections were welcomed by many trans rights activists, but soon after, the backlash started up.
In late 2014, several state legislatures introduced “bathroom surveillance” laws aimed at forcing trans people to use bathrooms designated for the gender they were assigned at birth. Republicans in various states ranging from Minnesota to North Carolina have introduced similar laws between 2015 and now. In 2016, North Carolina passed the infamous HB2 law, which requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender assigned at birth. The law was overturned in 2017. But in 2017 alone, 16 states considered anti-trans bathroom laws, according to a July report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Following Anchorage, residents of Massachusetts are being asked to vote in November on a referendum regarding a current state law that prohibits gender discrimination in bathrooms and locker rooms. Trans rights and other progressive groups are encouraging voters to support the referendum while reactionary anti-LGBTQ+ groups such as the Massachusetts Family Institute have advocated for a repeal of the law. Massachusetts is a famously liberal state, making it likely that the referendum will pass.
Keisling noted the ongoing, national fight in her statement about Anchorage, calling for solidarity with trans people around the country. “While difficult fights remain,” she said, “allies and advocates for the equality of transgender people nationwide should take some comfort in the consistent rejection of bigotry and hatred in state legislatures, in the courts, and now at the ballot box.”
What do you think? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Photos by Spencer Platt + Scott Olson/Getty Images. Illustration by Sarah Tate/Brit + Co)