Massachusetts voters will take to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to repeal the transgender anti-discrimination law put in place in 2016, which added gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in public accommodations.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill in July 2016 to extend protections against discrimination for gender identity in any place of public accommodation. The law states that any place of public accommodation that segregates or separates access to a place of public accommodation based on a person’s sex shall grant all people admission based on their gender identity. A “yes” vote would keep in place the current law, which makes it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in public spaces such as bathrooms, and a “no” vote would repeal this provision of the public accommodation law.
Massachusetts law defines gender identity as a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not it’s different from that traditionally associated with their physiology or assigned sex at birth.
University Spokesman Jack Dunn told The Heights that Boston College does not take positions in elections or ballot initiatives such as Question 3. He said that BC is in compliance with state law regarding identity protections. The University does not explicitly include gender identity within its Notice of Nondiscrimination.
“Boston College commits itself to maintaining a welcoming environment for all people and extends its welcome in particular to those who may be vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, age, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, military status, or other legally protected status,” the notice says. “Boston College rejects and condemns all forms of harassment, wrongful discrimination and disrespect.”
The GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC) at BC talked with administrators in 2016 about formally adding gender identity to the policy, those talks appear to have not yielded any results. Previous Heights reporting indicated that gender identity protection, though not stated in the policy, is kept “in mind” when “dealing with Title IX,” according to former GLC policy director Collin Pratt, BC ’17.
Neither of GLC’s co-chairs Chris Ramirez, MCAS ’19, and Symone Varnado, MCAS ’19, are transgender, but they said they are allies within the LGBTQ+ community.
“These protections already exist and trying to take them away is just a move backwards,” Ramirez said.
Varnado said one of the main problems with the No on 3 campaign is that they do not see trans-women as women and that this ballot question raises concern for who decides what it means to be a man or a woman.
“You have to consider, if I, as a cis woman, went into the women’s bathroom and someone said ‘You don’t look woman enough for me, get out,’” she said. “What does ‘enough’ mean, to be any gender?”
Andrew Beckwith, president of Massachusetts Family Institute, said during a debate on WBUR that he is concerned that the Massachusetts definition of gender identity does not require any type of surgery, hormones, or medical diagnosis to identify by a gender different from which they were assigned at birth.
“The law violates the privacy and safety of women by allowing any man identifying as a woman, including convicted sex offenders, to share women’s facilities,” Debby Durgan, chairman of Keep MA safe, wrote in the MA Information for Voters packet published by the secretary of the Commonwealth. “No law should make women and girls feel unsafe and exploit their privacy and security.”
Keep MA Safe is leading the No on 3 campaign, and lists several examples of privacy violations that occurred in public bathrooms and changing rooms.
A study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law provides evidence that “fears of increased safety and privacy violations as a result of nondiscrimination laws are not empirically grounded.” The passage of gender identity nondiscrimination laws is not related to the number of criminal incidents in public spaces, according to the study.
“This law is really about treating our transgender friends and neighbors as we would all want to be treated—with dignity and respect,” said Matt Wilder, communications consultant for Freedom For All Massachusetts, which is leading the Yes on 3 campaign. “Repeal [of the bill] would be devastating to our state’s reputation, economy, and community at large.”
In 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, prior to the Supreme Court ruling in 2015. It is one of 20 states, including Washington D.C., that have anti-discrimination laws to protect transgender people to free and fair accommodations.
“Massachusetts has a proud legacy of being on the forefront of LGBT rights,” said Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “This is a great chance to renew Massachusetts as a model for the country.”
Featured Image via Heights Archives