NOTE: This piece was originally published by the National Center for Transgender Equality, my employer. Republished here (admittedly almost two months late) with permission. Fortunately, Prop 1 did not succeed, but there is still lots of work to be done.
“Hi, this is Rebecca with Fair Anchorage. Do you have a moment to talk about nondiscrimination protections in Anchorage?”
An automatic dialer was connecting me with people in Anchorage who were likely to vote in favor of protecting transgender people. I had flown to Anchorage from Washington, DC to support Fair Anchorage’s #NoOnProp1 campaign.
Back in 2015, the Anchorage Assembly voted 9–2 in favor of a non-discrimination law that “made it illegal in the city to discriminate over sexual orientation or gender identity” in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
With a population of almost 300,000, Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and was the first to pass a non-discrimination ordinance that protected transgender residents. Now, in 2018, an anti-transgender coalition including the Alaska Family Council and the ridiculously named Protect Our Privacy has put those protections up for a vote.
Specifically, Proposition 1 would define sex as an “individual’s immutable biological condition of being male or female, as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.” This is how opponents of transgender equality attempt to look neutral and objective these days, instead of calling what they’re doing what it is: transphobic attacks on transgender people.
If Proposition 1 passes, it would mean that I, as a transgender woman, would be required to use a men’s restroom when out in public in Anchorage, regardless of how I identify, regardless of what my driver’s license or birth certificate says, and regardless of what medical treatments I have or haven’t undergone.
Confusingly, a ‘yes’ vote on Prop 1 is bad for trans people and a ‘no’ vote is good. That’s why our phone banking script started with asking people about nondiscrimination protections in general, and only asked them about Prop 1 once it was clear where the caller stood on the issue.
Most phone banking calls don’t get answered, and my experience in Anchorage was no exception, but I was able to speak with a few residents who proudly said they had already voted ‘no,’ or planned to do so. I also reached a few residents who gratefully said, “I’m so glad you called! I thought voting ‘yes’ was good for trans people, but I’ll be sure to vote ‘no’ instead!”
Then there were the people who weren’t so sure where they stood. “This issue is just so complicated,” one person told me. I listened patiently. “Of course I want to support transgender people,” she continue, “but I have a daughter who will be in high school next year. What if a boy says he’s a girl so he can get into the girls’ locker room?”
I tried to reassure her that nondiscrimination protections weren’t putting her daughter at risk. I let her know about the dozens of states and hundreds of cities with similar protections, and that they haven’t seen an increase in public safety issues. I mentioned my own trans identity, and explained how Prop 1 would negatively impact me.
She paused. “It’s just so much to think about,” she said, unsure of herself. From years of being an educator and advocate, I know how confusing trans identity can be to people who have never thought about gender identity or moving beyond the binary.
At the same time, it was hard for me to stay on script, polite and reserved. This woman, and many voters like her, were weighing a very real threat to trans people — the exclusion of trans people from public life — against a fictitious threat to women and children — men in dresses, boldly harassing women and girls, with the community powerless to stop them.
I again gently explained that the Anchorage’s nondiscrimination ordinance has been in place since 2015, with no public safety issues. She listened, skeptically, responding with a quiet “I know, but…”
I had dozens of more people to try and reach before I was done phone banking, and limited time to do so. Likewise, the No on Prop 1 campaign had thousands more people to contact before ballots were due on April 3. Hoping for the best, I thanked this woman for her time, encouraged her to vote ‘no’ on Prop 1, and went on to my next call.
Support the #NoOnProp1 campaign
Election Day is April 3, and you can support the campaign wherever you are! Sign up for a remote phone bank with the National Equality Action Team.
Because Anchorage has moved to mail-in ballots, it may be some time after the April 3 voting deadline until we know whether or not Proposition One is defeated. But no matter how this election turns out, we know Proposition 1 won’t be the last attack on transgender
people. So get educated, get involved, and get ready.
We’re not giving up, and neither should you.
Rebecca Kling is the Community Storytelling Advocate at NCTE.