This coming November, Massachusetts residents will vote on whether or not to repeal anti-discrimination laws protecting transgender individuals in various public spaces, including bathrooms, restaurants and hospitals. And while Massachusetts is known for advocating for the the rights of transgender people and voting progressively on these issues, it is concerning to know there are organizations and people opposed to these policies who are pushing for a repeal.
Massachusetts’s vote this upcoming election season will gauge the state’s progress on this issue and will send an important message to the rest of the country. If the laws are upheld, then Massachusetts is confirming its stance as a liberal state, dedicated to equal rights for all — including trans people. However, if citizens vote to repeal these laws, not only would that be an unprecedented decision, but it would also leave transgender people outside of Massachusetts vulnerable to discrimination in their own states.
Over the past few months, several ads from conservative groups have surfaced, arguing that allowing trans people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity is inappropriate for children. Spokespeople from certain religious groups do not view the gender that trans people identify with as their true gender at all. They have specifically raised issue with gender as a fluid concept, which they argue is an idea that can’t be “policed.”
In particular, one ad from the Keep MA Safe campaign contradicts the experiences the reality that transgender people face when going to the restroom with non-transgender people. The ad depicts trans people in bathrooms as the aggressors, when more often than not, they are the ones suffering from discrimination.
This discrimination has even manifested itself as a health problem, with some trans people suffering from UTIs because they would rather not risk facing verbal or even physical harassment by using the restroom. Showing trans people in this light invalidates the experiences they actually face when using the bathroom.
The ad also attacks the fundamental definition of transgender people, mislabeling them as cross-dressing men who wear high heels and retouch their lip gloss in the mirror. This portrayal, of course, is harmful for the queer community and specifically gender non-conforming people. These groups are constantly under attack, and continuing to disrespect them undermines their identities and erases progress. It’s exactly this misinformation, though, that might sway voters to repeal these anti-discrimination laws.
The claims voiced by such groups are entirely illegitimate and come from a concern with their own beliefs, not for the rights and lives of others. They view the anti-discrimination policies as clashing with their religious values, and thus advocate for their repeal. In effect, they’re placing their beliefs as more of a priority than trans people being physically attacked when going to the bathroom. Of course, no one is attacking them for having these beliefs — nor are they too scared to use the bathroom.
These laws don’t just protect trans people from facing discrimination in the bathroom, though. They also protect them from facing harassment in other public spaces, like locker rooms, theaters and other businesses — places where they may be denied service simply for being who they are. Therefore, these laws are crucial in ensuring that trans people are welcomed no matter where they choose to eat or shop.
The decision on these anti-discrimination laws comes at a time when we’re increasingly reliant on state laws to be the voice for the oppressed and marginalized. While the current administration continues to pass policies that undermine groups based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, state laws are the only device we have to resist these hateful measures. If the state law echoes the same sentiment by current federal laws, that’s when we subject ourselves to losing fundamental rights for all.