Column: A vote for transgender rights is not a vote against women’s safety

Kai Berriman at the Rally for Transgender Rights at City Hall Plaza, Oct. 28. Photo by M. F. Sánchez / BU News Service

By Geoffrey Line
BU News Service

BOSTON — The Keep Massachusetts Safe Committee would have you believe that if you don’t vote against legislation which protects transgendered people from discrimination in public places today, you are dooming women in restrooms across the state to the kind of sexual assault experienced by female victims in the most exploitative horror movies.

That’s the message of a recent video from the No On 3 campaign. In the style of a slasher film, the thirty second ad features a young woman undressing in a locker room while a hooded male ogles at her from a bathroom stall. Ominous instrumental music builds in intensity as he peeks behind a shower curtain, peers through the slit of his stall, pries open its door and at last reveals his presence to his victim. He even growls like a dragon— a perverted Smaug.

The ad is paid for by Ray Ruddy, Tom Breur and Wally Weld, top contributors to the Renew Massachusetts Coalition and the Massachusetts Family Institute, conservative organizations that opposed the legalization of gay marriage in 2004.

The campaign aims to dismantle existing legislation passed in 2016, which prohibits the exclusion of transgendered people from the public space consistent with their sincerely held gender identity. No On 3 contends that men (including previous sex offenders) have and will abuse the law by making false gender identity claims to assault women in public restrooms.

But the thing is, they haven’t.

A recent study of Massachusetts crime reports conducted by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute found “no relation between public transgender bathroom access and crimes that occur in [them].” There is no evidence of men pretending to be transgender to assault women in public spaces under the current accommodations law. And then, there is nothing to prevent a man from entering a women’s restroom and committing sexual assault whether or not the law exists. Locker rooms do not have bouncers. There are no bathroom police.

Andrew Beckwith, the leader of No On 3 has repeatedly been unable to answer for the lack of evidence supporting his campaign in policy debates moderated by WGBH. He has cited, broadly speaking, increases in “voyeurism and upskirting” in public restrooms. And in this respect, he’s right. Boston area police departments have reported an increase in “peeping Tom” cases, according to the Williams Institute report. But these are attributed to developments in digital technology that enable suspects to use cameras to invade women’s privacy, not transgendered accommodations.

The real victims in this debate are transgendered people themselves.

Mason Dunn, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and co-chair of the Yes On 3 campaign says that the transgendered community is already at risk, subject not just to violence and harassment, but also to minority stress.

“There is a lot of miscommunication and interpretation of who we are,” Dunn, a transgendered man says. He explains that the vilification and false representation of transgendered people in mainstream media and public discourse, “results in higher rates of depression, anxiety, as well as suicide ideation amongst trans individuals.” These symptoms are aggravated by the very existence of Question 3, a vote to repeal the rights of transgendered people in Massachusetts.

The Bay State is hailed as a progressive social policy leader. It was the first state to legalize gay marriage. And now, advocates, allies and opponents of LGBTQ communities across the United States direct their attention to Massachusetts and wonder: Will it be the first state to repeal the rights of transgendered people, too? The consequences are national.

In Washington D.C., the Trump administration contemplates rewriting the very definition of sexual identity, which would require that 1.4 million transgendered Americans identify strictly as their biological sex assigned at birth, according to the New York Times.

When asked to explain his administration’s reason for considering such changes with respects to transgendered people, President Trump responded that he was “protecting everybody,” and that he wanted to protect the country. The inherent suggestion is that transgendered people pose a threat to public safety.

Beckwith, the leader of No On 3 has rationalized his attack on transgender rights using a similar argument. “I believe that a law that silences women and tells them that their objections to male bodies in private spaces is not real, is wrong and should be repealed.”

Protecting women from sexual assault at the hands of men— at the state and federal level, is a surprising line of reasoning from a grand old party that has shown little regard for women, balked at their allegations of sexual misconduct and often found itself at the center of them.

Consider the recent vilification of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for testifying against Brett Kavanaugh. Recall 2017 Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, who President Trump endorsed, despite the nine women who alleged he sexually harassed or assaulted them in their youth. Remember President Trump publically mocking the Me Too movement while simultaneously belittling Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Remember President Trump boasting about groping women.

The conservative argument that transgender rights need to be reconsidered to ensure against the sexual assault of women is audacious, convenient and hollow. The president and his followers, who have been complicit in supporting an administration that has consistently and actively denied women’s testimonies and dignity in matters of sexual assault, should be called out for what they are: political opportunists afraid to cede power to people unlike them.

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