By Miranda Suarez
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in WCAI.
Question 3 proposes to repeal a 2016 law that banned discrimination against transgender people in public places, including malls, restaurants and bathrooms.
The repeal effort focuses on the part of the law that gives transgender people legal protections when they use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
No On Three, the group working to repeal the law, gets its support from organizations like the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes other LGBT causes, like same sex marriage. No On Three spokesperson Yvette Ollada said men could take advantage of the law and pose as transgender to enter bathrooms and assault women.
“We believe that no woman should have to be endangered by this law, and that she should not be forced to touch someone or be exposed to someone in a way she’s not comfortable with,” said Ollada.
In fact, bathroom incidents in general are rare. The Williams Institute at UCLA analyzed crime in Massachusetts towns that passed their own transgender nondiscrimination ordinances before the 2016 statewide law. The study found a low incidence rate of those crimes, and those crimes did not increase after the ordinances passed, and none were linked to people posing as transgender. One of Ollada’s main concerns is that there may be no way to distinguish between a transgender person and someone taking advantage of the law.
“The definition of the law is “a state of mind,” Ollada said. “It’s based on someone’s sincerely held gender identity at the time. So there is no legal way to prove someone’s state of mind and what their sincerely held belief is.”
Supporters of the law say there’s too much focus on bathrooms, when the law is meant to protect transgender people in all public places
“What we are seeking by defending this law is to ensure that transgender people can go to the grocery store, can go to a library and know that we are free from discrimination, free to utilize those spaces, regardless of our gender identity,” said Mason Dunn.
Dunn a trans activist and the co-chair of Freedom for All Massachusetts, the group working to keep the law. Dunn says No On Three makes transgender people sound like criminals, when they want privacy like everyone else. Lorelei Erisis calls it scare tactics. She is a gender issues columnist, improv comic, and a part of the Fantasia affair in Provincetown—the longest running transgender event in the world.
Erisis said, while she’s never had a problem using public restrooms since she began transitioning 10 years ago, the 2016 law still changed the way she thought about her own safety and privacy in public places.
“I don’t have to worry about going to places,” Erisis said. “I don’t necessarily have to do that mental calculation of say, when I’m driving from Northhampton to Boston, ‘Is it going to be safe for me to use the restroom on the Pike?’ I know that I am protected in these places.”
Erisis says the renewed debate about the law is a painful step backward. “It’s exhausting,” Erisis said. “It hurts. I know, for me, it’s a distraction from work we could be doing to help the community.”
Unlike the other ballot questions, the group that proposed Question 3 is on the no side. Voters must vote no to repeal the law, and yes to keep it in place.