While canvassing Massachusetts’ ballot Question 3, freshman TJ Coste encountered a woman who feared using a bathroom stall next to someone with male genitalia. Coste responded by sharing their experience as a transgender person and convinced her to vote differently.
“I’ve really held on to that conversation for months, because if she had talked to the opposition, she would’ve went to the other side,” Coste said.
Coste said last summer they signed up to canvass Question 3 during the midterm elections because they believe the results would directly affect their life as a gender nonconforming transgender person.
Voting yes on Question 3 maintains an existing Massachusetts law that restricts public spaces like bathrooms, restaurants, locker rooms, and hospitals from discriminating against transgender people.
The summer before Coste started college, representatives from Yes on 3: Freedom for All Massachusetts approached them at Boston Pride and asked if they wanted to canvass the question.
Keep MA Safe, an organization that helped gather signatures to put the referendum on the ballot, argues that people reserve the right to privacy and safety within public spaces. They urge a “no” vote on Question 3, which means repealing the law and removing the gender identity category from state anti-discrimination laws.
According to Ballotpedia, Keep MA Safe issued a statement that said, “This is not progress for our Commonwealth. We should not require women to sacrifice their privacy for the sake of sexual charades.”
Boston Globe’s polls from last month projected 73 percent of Mass. voters will vote yes and 21 percent will vote no, and six percent to be undecided.
As a canvasser, Coste said they travel door-to-door to inform voters about the issue.
They said the law’s nickname, the “bathroom bill,” misleads voters into thinking this affects only bathrooms. If the law is repealed, doctors could deny transgender people medical attention that requires patients to identify with their biological sex, according to Ballotpedia.
“Libraries, restaurants—it’s all of that. There’s a lot more at stake than just bathrooms,” Coste said.
Coste said they often tell voters how living as transgender affects them personally and daily.
“I can pass as a trans woman—I’ve gotten that a lot. I’ve gotten trans man; I’ve gotten drag,” Coste said. “I’ve definitely encountered people every day where they will encounter me and be visibly upset for how I look.”
Coste said giving the issue a face prompts voters to think about it more critically. According to Coste, the most memorable instance happened when they changed a voter’s mind after speaking to her for 20 minutes.
“She asked me immediately, ‘Why do you care? Is it because you’re trans?’” Coste said. “And I said, ‘Yes, I care about this because it affects me directly.’”
Coste said they also recruit volunteers. Coste speaks at classes and Emerson organizations and passes out information for people interested in volunteering, which they turn into senior Rija Rehan. Rehan, who works as a Field Organizer for Yes on 3, then contacts those interested and tells them how to officially volunteer.
So far, Rehan said they received 10 postcards from Emerson.
“They were so down—they were so enthusiastic,” Rehan said. “I’m just really lucky to have [Coste] and not to have to search through the crowd of Emerson folks.”
Rehan, who identifies as queer, said they work as a field organizer for Question 3 because of their identity and the identities of their friends. Through their own efforts and conversations, they hope to pass Question 3.
Coste and Rehan both said few people know about the question. The two said they believe there is a scarcity of information because they did not know about the existing law or the question on the ballot until this summer.
“I don’t think many people are informed about it. I wasn’t at all,” Coste said. “It’s not information that’s actively available, and that’s definitely on purpose. If you don’t inform people about what decisions they’re going to be making, then they won’t think much about it.”
Despite the college’s renown as the most LGBTQ+ friendly campus nationwide, some students pointed out how others lack knowledge on these issues.
Senior Jeremy Delgadillo, another transgender student, noted almost no Emerson students attended the Rally for Transgender Rights at the City Hall Plaza on Sunday, Oct. 28, despite several RSVPing on Facebook.
“I feel like Emerson actually puts up this facade of being ‘woke,’ but in reality, they don’t do anything. A lot of Emerson students are from wealthy background, but they’re all talk,” Delgadillo said.
Rehan said the public deserves the rights and protections Emerson strives to give its students. Rehan said they encourage Emerson students to stay involved, even if they plan on voting absentee.
“Just because you’re not from Massachusetts, doesn’t mean you can’t help with Yes on 3,” Rehan said. “I’ve talked to so many students who say, ‘I’m not registered in [Massachusetts]!’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not registered in Massachusetts either, but I still want to be a part of this because we all live here.’”
Midterm elections start Nov. 6. Rehan said they will campaign for Question 3 in Jamaica Plain, and Coste said they will vote somewhere else in Massachusetts.