Anti-trans activists have failed to garner the signatures to bring an extreme bathroom referendum to the ballot, stunning many advocates who widely expected to see it come to a vote.
The Free & Fair Coalition, a group of organizations working to defeat the measure, has declared victory after the Montana Family Foundation fell dramatically short of the 25,468 signatures it needed to qualify.
Advocates estimate that measure fell below 10,000 signatures. On Friday, the Montana Secretary of State’s Office reported that they had tallied just 8,079 to a local reporter.
“Today we are celebrating,” said Shawn Reagor, Free & Fair Coalition Vice-Chair, in a statement. “Our commitment to trans and non-binary Montanans is unwavering and we will continue showing up to defend against attacks on the dignity and privacy of our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.”
The measure, I-183, would have mandated sex-segregated bathrooms regardless of a trans person’s updated legal documents. It also granted people the right to sue the government if they encountered someone of the “opposite sex” in a bathroom.
The initiative had national significance. It would have been the first time that any state had voted on a bathroom measure and only the second time a state voted on trans rights, after Massachusetts considers repealing trans public accommodations protections this fall. A similar initiative failed at the ballot in Anchorage, AK earlier this year.
Advocates were so certain it would land on the ballot that they launched the Free & Fair Coalition in April 2018.
“Like other laws and ballot measures that have been proposed in various states and localities, I-183 is meant to capitalize on the fears and uncertainties of voters and punish Montana’s transgender and non-binary community,” said S.K. Rossi, FreeFair Coalition spokesperson, in a statement at the time.
Anti-trans activists pushed to get I-183 on the ballot by signature after they failed to do so via the legislature last spring. In that instance, the Montana Locker Room and Privacy Act didn’t even clear committee.
In recent days, the fate of I-183 appeared uncertain, however. A month ago, the Secretary of State’s Office told INTO that just a couple dozen had been turned in on the measure. The deadline for signature gathering came and went without an update from the Secretary of State’s Office. For more than a week, the office refused to release any information to INTO despite more than a dozen inquiries.
But coalition members were cautiously optimistic as reports from individual counties suggested that measure had failed.
“We are thrilled, although not surprised, to learn this harmful measure failed to qualify for the November ballot,” said Marina Connor, Free & Fair Coalition chairperson. “The work we have been engaged in for the last several months to organize our community and educate Montanans about this measure being inconsistent with our shared values has won the day,”
With Anchorage and Montana’s anti-trans measure’s defeated, all eyes turn to Massachusetts where organizers are feverishly working against the first statewide referendum on transgender rights. Despite the liberal bent of the Commonwealth, experts say the Massachusetts Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum has a 50 percent chance of success.
“I have been working in the movement for two decades as of this year,” said Kasey Suffredini, co-chair of Freedom for All Massachusetts, the campaign against the Massachusetts measure. “There has been no other fight that I have been part of that has felt so urgent because of the consequences of what’s to come based on what we’ve seen before.”