A lot of things are familiar about a new ad released by a group pushing a ballot measure to roll back trans anti-discrimination protections in Massachusetts.
Released on Monday, the two-minute segment depicts a little blonde girl in a bathroom confronted with the horrifying reality of having to share a restroom with “a man.”
“A little girl shouldn’t have to wonder why there’s a man using the women’s bathrooms,” the narrator says. “What many don’t understand is that a new law in Massachusetts makes it illegal to prevent a man from using the women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities.”
But Massachusetts shoppers might have also recognized the location of the opening scene in the ad: a Wegmans grocery store. Before the little girl enters the restroom, she strolls hand-in-hand with an adult through grocery store aisles and toward a restroom that bear a strong resemblance to Wegmans.
And that’s a problem, Wegmans says.
The ad is the latest release from the Keep MA Safe campaign, the coalition backing a referendum to repeal gender identity protections in public accomodations that took effect in 2016.
LGBTQ advocates say the Massachusetts Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum has a 50 percent chance of success in November. The vote is being watched as a litmus test for other anti-trans measures across the country, as advocates fear a repeal in progressive Massachusetts could spell doom for trans rights from coast to coast.
But Keep MA Safe may have wandered into dangerous territory with their new ad.
Jo Natale, vice president of media relations for Wegmans Food Markets, says his company wants the ad removed.
“It appears that the footage in the aisle and in the corridor leading to restrooms was shot in one of our stores, but it was done without our knowledge or permission,” Natale wrote in an email to INTO. “For this reason, we have sent a letter asking that they remove the video from their web site and anywhere else where it may be used.”
Natale noted the bathroom scene was not filmed at one of their stores. Wegmans has six locations in Massachusetts, according to the company’s website.
Keep MA Safe did not respond to a request to comment, but the group appeared to respond to Wegmans concerns. On Thursday, it released a new version of the ad that edited out the opening scene in the store.
Documentarian Eric Juhola, whose film Growing up Coy, depicts a transgender six-year-old’s fight to use the girl’s restroom at her Colorado school, first pressed Wegmans about the commercial.
Juhola asked Wegmans in a tweet if the company knew it had been depicted in the ad.
This is terrible! It would be interesting to find out if @Wegmans approved their location for this ad in Massachusetts….https://t.co/WLQVeZcqKl. If so, they need to be called out and boycotted, and if not – they should speak out against it. https://t.co/OSATYXqos1
— Eric Juhola (@EricJuhola) March 21, 2018
Wegmans replied that it did not allow outside groups to film on their property and would seek the video’s removal.
Hello! We intend to inform them that Wegmans does not permit outside groups, who are unaffiliated with our company, to shoot video on our property and ask that they take the video down.
— Wegmans Food Markets (@Wegmans) March 21, 2018
Last year, Forbes ranked Wegman’s 5th on its list of companies in the U.S. doing the most to create inclusive cultures for minorities, LGBTQ employees, and women.
Kasey Suffredini, co-chair of Freedom for All Massachusetts, the group fighting to keep anti-discrimination protections, denounced the ad in a statement to INTO.
“Filming an ad without the consent of all the parties involvednot to mention in an effort to deceive votersis wrong,” says Suffredini. “But opponents of freedom and fairness are compelled to grasp for anything they can to push forward misleading notions about transgender people because they lack a breadth of diverse support.”
The video is the third anti-trans bathroom ad in recent weeks to raise questions about the honesty of anti-trans oppononents.
Anchorage is currently voting on an anti-trans bathroom measure that would force transgender people to use public restrooms which correspond with the gender listed on their original birth certificate. The campaign pushing that proposal released a video this week claiming an Alaska homeless shelter sought the right to reject trans women but did not receive prior permission from the organization.
Just days before that ad was released, the same group released an TV spot featuring a woman named “Kate” who claimed to be scarred from having to share a locker room with a trans person. However, Kate is not from Alaska.