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This summer saw a great victory for civil rights in Massachusetts when Governor Charles Baker '79 signed a comprehensive transgender rights bill into law. The law bans discrimination in public places on the basis of gender identity and allows Bay Staters to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities that match their gender identity. As the first of its kind in the nation, this law once again puts Massachusetts in the lead on LGBTQ equality. Unfortunately, backlash against the measure continues, in the form of a lawsuit and of a ballot question slated for 2018. We urge courts and voters to reject both.
Though the exact issues at stake differ between the lawsuit and the ballot question—the former asks that churches that host public events to be exempted from certain provisions of the law, and the latter seeks full repeal—much of the opposition to the law purports to stem from the same logically incoherent concern. As argued in a statement by the Massachusetts Family Institute, one of the law’s most vocal and dogged opponents, this concern is that the measure “has opened the door for predators to enter public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers and to abuse this vague legislation.”
This view presumes that the most effective line of defense in preventing sexual assault is the plastic sign adorned with “men” or “women” outside most bathrooms—an assumption that, quite frankly, is hogwash. While we in no way wish to make light of sexual assault as a public safety issue, we do wish to highlight the bizarre train of thought which suggests that guaranteeing rights for the transgender community will somehow stoke sexual violence. In reality, what groups like the Massachusetts Family Institute wish to preserve is their right to discriminate under the guise of public safety and religious liberty. The Family Institute’s statement conceded as much when it denounced the bill as part of “a radical and aggressive agenda of sexual expression and a denial of basic biological truth.”
The legerdemain perpetrated by the law’s opponents is particularly ironic because laws like Massachusetts’ are, in fact, a crucial bulwark against violence. Transgender Americans are far more likely to experience harassment and violence at school, are more likely to attempt suicide as a result, and are more likely to experience discrimination in employment, housing, and in the provision of social services. While opponents of the Massachusetts law have fabricated concerns about safety, violence against the transgender community is a real and pressing concern. This law is part of an ongoing effort to ensure that transgender Americans can live safely and freely.
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