By: Anabelle Keimach (Correspondent)
Transgender rights are once again in jeopardy as Question 3 appears on this year’s Massachusetts midterm ballot asking voters if they want to keep or repeal An Act Relative To Transgender Anti-Discrimination (Bill S.735).
This anti-discrimination law allows transgender people to use public restrooms, locker rooms, and any other public accommodations designated for the gender they identify as. Governor Baker signed the law in October of 2016 after it was debated for ten years. Those who oppose this law are trying to overturn it by securing a veto referendum on this year’s ballot. A majority of “yes” votes will uphold the anti-discrimination law, while a majority of “no” votes will repeal it.
Section 4 part B of this law specifically states: “The attorney general’s office shall issue regulations or guidance for referring to appropriate law enforcement agency or other appropriate authority for legal action any person whose assertion of a gender identity is for an improper purpose…”
Despite this, Andrew Beckwith, a legal analyst with the “No on Three” campaign, says that he as well as others who oppose this law are fearful that male predators could take advantage of the current law by claiming to identify as female thus being allowed access to women’s places. “…a registered sex offender could abuse this law to gain access to women in various stages of undress, and women who object to this invasion of their privacy by a male body can be punished criminally and financially if they speak up or try to stop it,” said Beckwith.
Kasey Suffredini, the co-chair of the “Yes on Three” campaign, says that the law is very clear in stating that it cannot be used for an improper purpose. “The law itself says… gender identity actually has to be consistently and uniformly held, which means you can’t switch it from day to day. It’s very clear under this law that if someone is doing something suspicious they can absolutely be stopped and nobody will be in trouble for doing that,” said Suffredini. “The community consensus around this law is probably the broadest support that any ballot measure in Massachusetts has ever had. These are large and small businesses, labor unions, law enforcement officers, assault prevention groups, conservatives and progressives; they don’t agree on many things but they agree on a “yes” on three because we should all treat each other with dignity and respect,” said Suffredini.
Suffredini, who is a transgender male, has experienced discrimination in public places and does not want anyone else to have to face that. “There is no evidence of the kind of the abuses that the “No on Three” campaign is talking about, but there is so much evidence of the discrimination that the transgender people face.”
Results from a new UCLA study have shown that since the law was passed there have been fewer safety and violation issues in Massachusetts as compared to states without the law in place. According to study author Jody L. Herman, a scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute, transgender people are often denied access to public accommodations and are verbally or physically assaulted due to their sexual orientation. “This study should provide some assurance that these types of public accommodations laws provide necessary protections for transgender people and maintain safety and privacy for everyone,” says Herman.
Transgender male senior, Kyle Ginsburg says that the time the anti-discrimination law was passed in 2016 was when he was beginning to come out. “ It was nice to know going into a coming out experience that my state accepted me and it was nice to be in an environment where it was okay to be trans and okay to be trans in public.”
Sharon High School has been very accepting towards its transgender students and has made accommodations for them so they feel that they are in a comfortable and safe environment at school. “We have gender-neutral bathrooms, and while there are currently a few kinks being worked out with the security and privacy of these bathrooms, it’s, of course, important that they be available for our students,” said guidance counselor, Ms. Keeney, who is co-advisor of Sharon High School’s GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance)
Ginsburg says that everyone was incredibly accepting when he first came out as transgender but does acknowledge that there are issues with the gender-neutral bathrooms. “ It really hurts me to see people just abusing it because it is the one bathroom in the school I can use comfortably. I’ve tried to use the men’s bathroom; I can’t use the women’s bathroom,” said Ginsburg. He has made great efforts along with the GSA to try and fix those problems. “I am determined to make it better for transgender students following me,” said Ginsburg.
Ginsburg adds that repealing the gender identity anti-discrimination law would be taking away people’s civil rights, and that should never happen. “I think people should be given more rights and more freedoms and more able to express and be themselves in any scenario…If question three is repealed, it is just taking away the rights of human beings,” he said.
Ms. Cohen, who is co-advisor of the GSA says that she doesn’t see the state legislature comfortably moving forward to repeal the law if that is what voters decide. “I think that there are a number of organizations including definitely the ACLU that are going to be quick to challenge it if it is repealed,” said Cohen.
“I would respond to those who support the repeal by urging them to educate themselves further on the importance of respecting an individual’s identity and gender expression. We don’t need to fear the transgender community,” said Keeney.
All people interviewed stressed that it is crucial for everyone who can vote to do their research on the questions they will be answering. “I think it’s important to see who is being impacted by this. Get out and make sure you know who is really impacted by it and try and make sure you are doing your research any time for a ballot question. If you are not doing your research then it’s tough to say how you are going to vote,” says Cohen.
“I encourage anyone who can vote to vote yes on Question 3 because trans people are human beings,” said Ginsburg.