Exclusive: Massachusetts Bill Provides Explicit Legal Protections for Transgender People in Public Spaces

Public SpacesMembers of the trans community and their allies hold a celebratory event at the State House to celebrate the signing of the public accommodations bill on July 11
Photo: Christine Hurley, Hurley Event Photography
banner ad

It was not until the complete bill passed, with public spaces protections, that it seemed like a reality for Mass.

By: Mike Givens/TRT Assistant Editor—

The reason for moving to Massachusetts was simple: an escape from the transphobia of the midwest.

“I moved east because in the LGBTQ college group I was a part of, there was a mythos of reaching the liberal coast to get away from discrimination,” said Andrew Amanda, a 26-year-old from Kansas who moved to the Bay State in 2014 as an intern in a church-based service program in Western Massachusetts.

Andrew Amanda, who requested to be identified by their first name, is agender. Andrew Amanda defines “agender” as “not having a gendered sense of oneself” and for the purposes of this article will be identified with the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their(s).”

“After job interviews that asked ‘can hormones change your DNA’ and doctors that called my genitalia ‘cute,’ I moved hoping that places that had protections on the books for sexual orientation might be safer for me to grow into my agender identity,” they said.

But in Massachusetts, they had their own set of specific problems. The relationship between Andrew Amanda and the church gradually deteriorated.

“ … I didn’t pay attention when the priest told me that people felt I was ‘rude’ for interjecting my pronouns in the middle of a conversation,” they said of the experience. “I let myself be talked over, and tried to compartmentalize.”

The constant misgendering and lack of respect for their preferred pronouns caused a fracture, one that forced Andrew Amanda to step away from the church.

“Being misnamed and misgendered is harder than simply being ‘too weird’ of a gender to understand,” they said. “I began to get more and more frustrated with being lumped in with the ‘guys’ in choir just because I sing tenor.”

The dynamics in public spaces were equally upsetting.

“To help make it easier I wear an embroidered patch on my left chest that explicitly states, ‘my pronouns are They/Them/Theirs.’

“One day I was riding a bus on a Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) route and the driver asked me about my patch. After I explained, he told me that it was ‘crazy,’ in a tone that implied that I was insane.

“The public spaces are more complicated because it involves a constant stream of decisions to risk further trauma or avoid accessing a needed resource,” they said.

Andrew Amanda said that the transphobia, misgendering, and continual disrespect in both the church they attended and in public, “created an environment where you have to be really intentional about reinforcing your own self-worth because so many places will tell you, even accidentally, that you shouldn’t exist.”

In January 2015, legislation was filed to provide explicit legal protections for people like Andrew Amanda in public spaces like restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, coffee shops, and other venues open to the public. The legislation galvanized strong proponents and opponents, from the Massachusetts State House to concerned community groups to grassroots advocacy organizations.

On July 8, 2016, Massachusetts’ Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law, effectively codifying the legal protection of people like Andrew Amanda in public spaces. But the path to its signing was one fraught with partisan politics, transphobia, fears of privacy invasion, accusations of safety threats, and even anti-trans sentiment espoused by the Governor himself.

A decade in the making

 It was November 1, 2005 and Representative Carl Sciortino, an ambitious, intelligent freshman state legislator representing the 34th Middlesex District in Massachusetts, was attending a conference.

“Legal Protections for Gender-Variant People: Challenging Discrimination” was a gathering of like-minded progressive legislators, lawyers, and advocates seeking to address the noticeable gaps in state law that allowed for the discrimination of transgender people.

“When I realized how complicated and inadequate our current state laws were, I offered to work with some of the folks there to file legislation,” Sciortino remembered. “They took me up on that opportunity very quickly and very excitedly.”

An hod-hoc working group was formed and in January 2007, the beginning of Sciortino’s second term in office, a comprehensive bill was filed, one that provided explicit legal protections for transgender people in public spaces, employment, housing, credit/lending, and public education. The proposed bill, co-sponsored by Sciortino and Representative Byron Rushing, also amended the state’s hate crimes law to include gender identity and gender expression.

The marriage equality fight was still being waged in Massachusetts, almost three years after it had been legalized. Friends, colleagues, and allies urged Sciortino not to “rock the boat” by filing the legislation, to devote his efforts to cementing the statewide marriage equality victory.

“It’s time to stop waiting. The trans community has been told to wait for too long and we need to get started and do some of the basic education that needs to happen,” was his reply.

“You have to keep in mind in 2007 there was no Caitlyn Jenner, there was no Laverne Cox, there was not even a Chaz Bono ‘Dancing With the Stars’ yet,”  he said of the effort to educate the public on the need for laws protecting gender identity. “There was really little public understanding of what ‘transgender’ meant, including within the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community here in Massachusetts.”

The bill didn’t make any progress during that two-year term and Sciortino and Rushing refiled it in 2009. The Senate filed a similar bill under the leadership of Senator Benjamin Downing. The marriage equality fight had been won, which left the door open for opponents of LGBTQ rights to take on another high-profile issue.

“It made some progress in that session in that we were able to do some more public education and education of lawmakers and really build up the coalition” he said.

But in 2010 a dangerous moniker made its way around the State House, one that would stay with the bill up until its passage.

That year, Charlie Baker ran an unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Massachusetts, losing the seat to Deval Patrick. During that campaign, Baker was quoted as calling the legislation “the bathroom bill” and voiced his staunch opposition to it. Baker’s comments were part of a growing animus towards transgender people and the lack of public awareness around transgender identities bred confusion and fear.

Accusations from conservative legislators and community groups of predatory behavior in restrooms and locker rooms were heaped upon transgender people; the trans community bore the burden of having to prove that its members were not deviants seeking to use sex-segregated facilities to commit crimes against women and children.

January 2011 saw Sciortino and Rushing filing the legislation a third time on the House side and Senator Downing was joined by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz in filing the bill on the Senate side. In November the bill passed, but only after the Judiciary Committee removed the public accommodations language. More conservative lawmakers wanted language included in the bill that specifically defined gender identity. In the 2011 law, it was defined, in part, as:

” … a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior … sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity; provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.” (http://goo.gl/GBqx6c)

“That was a really difficult compromise for us working on the bill,” Sciortino said. “When I was clear we were not going to get the bill with public accommodations in 2011, I felt it wasn’t my decision to make as to whether to move forward or not. It was really the community’s decision to move forward with a bill that was imperfect without public accommodations [protections] and come back for public accommodations the next session.

“Or do you hold out for the whole thing all at once, which could have taken many more years. That question was given to the coalition and members of the trans community to make that really difficult decision and they came back saying they wanted to move forward even without public accommodations as long as there was a clear commitment to fight for public accommodations in the future.”

Under the new law, transgender people were protected in almost every area that other protected classes were covered. However, the absence of public accommodations protections established a noticeable inconsistency in the law that left transgender people vulnerable. For example, a transgender person was protected under the law when it came to applying for a job in a public space, but as a patron of that space, no legal protections existed.

People like Andrew Amanda were legally able to work in a retail store as a cashier, but lacked the codified legal protections preventing the store owner from denying them access as a customer.

Advocates used this hole in the law to push more aggressively for the protection of gender identity in public spaces and ramped up efforts to pass local ordinances in cities and towns across Massachusetts. From Amherst to Boston, advocates worked their grassroots connections to pass these ordinances and illustrate to the Commonwealth that implementation was not problematic and that concerns over privacy and safety were unfounded. By the time the standalone bill was signed into law on July 8, more than a dozen cities and towns had effective ordinances in place protecting gender identity in public spaces, none of them reporting incidents with implementation or criminal behavior.

Another benefit of the 2011 law was the protection of transgender students in public schools. In 2012, the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) released a lengthy document to public schools across the Commonwealth with recommended best practices for creating safe and supportive spaces for transgender students in Massachusetts. “Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment” helped lay the foundation for treating transgender students with dignity.

“The reality is that the 2011 law helped lay the foundation for the educational work that remained to be done in order to pass full, comprehensive protections,” said Jennifer Levi, director of the Trans Rights Project at GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).  “I am proud that we took the risk we did in 2011, and more, that we were able to come back and finish what we started.”

In January 2013, a standalone bill seeking public accommodations protections for transgender people was filed. The bill did not pass during the session, but when Sciortino stepped down from his legislative seat in April 2014 to become the executive director for AIDS Action Committee, he left the bill in the hands of several state lawmakers and a coalition of advocates including the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus (MGLPC), the Greater Boston Chapter of Parents, Family, and Friends of LGBTQ People (PFLAG), MassEquality, GLAD , the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Boston Alliance of Gay Lesbian Bisexual & Transgender Youth (BAGLY), the Massachusetts Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth (MCLGBTQY).

In 2014, Charlie Baker ran for the Governor’s office again and defeated his opponent, former Attorney General Martha Coakley. A little over a month after his win, Baker was quoted as saying that he opposed any changes to the public accommodations law and asserted his contention that he was unsure of how the law would be implemented.

Baker’s hesitance to endorse the law was emblematic of a fermenting transphobic sentiment that was overtaking the country. Dozens of “bathroom bills” aimed at stripping away the rights of transgender people in public spaces were filed in 2015; many of the bills aimed to reduce transgender people to second-class citizens. With the June 26, 2015 ruling by the United States Supreme Court legalizing marriage equality across the nation, conservatives and anti-LGBTQ pundits needed to recoup their losses and declared open season on transgender people. As bills were filed, heated conversations arose on social and traditional media about gender identity.

In 2016, North Carolina passed a highly controversial bill to deny transgender people access to the sex-segregated facilities that most closely align with their gender identity, a move that invited dozens of lawsuits and even a move from the United States Department of Justice to block the legislation’s implementation.

In May, President Obama issued a directive limiting federal funds to states who forced transgender people to use restrooms based on their biological sex, an instruction currently being appealed before the Supreme Court by 10 states.

On June 30, United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender people would be allowed to openly serve in the military and laid out a 12-month implementation plan.

July 8 would be a historic day for trans rights in Massachusetts, but only after an uphill battle in the State Legislature, a redoubled statewide public education effort, and a bit of help from the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots.

The victory

On March 25, as the State Legislature wrestled with the language of the public accommodations bill, Andrew Amanda decided to make a public declaration on Facebook. The post was simple and to the point about their mental processes as an agender person using public restrooms.

“Go where it’s close,” read their first of five rules for using public restrooms. “Simply entering a public restroom is going to trigger anything from mild to severe anxiety, so like ripping off a band-aid, it’s best to get it over with.”

The rest of the post listed other rules for restroom interactions, including “No eye contact, don’t speak to me. When I’m in the restroom I am at my most vulnerable. The varied social rules are impossible to master and any failure could lead to bodily harm or death. From the minute I cross the threshold I stare at the floor and wish invisibility was an actual thing I could pull off.”

Andrew Amanda referred to a “gender guessing game” in which, “ … when confronted by binary signs in a foreign environment, I deny myself and figure out what gender I’m most likely to be read as. Chances are it will be wrong, but sometimes it’s necessary to take a guess and pray no one challenges it. FYI I have seconds to make this decision as staring at the signs is enough to make me suspect.”

The post also included a rule on carrying identification if confronted by police and being mentally prepared to be arrested on fraud charges should they not present the same way they’re identified in an ID.

“To summarize, even in liberal New England, I do not feel safe when I need to pee,” the post ended. “I know that my bathroom ‘rules’ are in many ways self-denigrating, contribute to the erasure of my people and have not actually kept me from dangerous encounters. Despite these limitations [,] they are the best I have while I try to live in a society where my very existence is treated as a threat and my bodily functions a crime.”

And while Andrew Amanda followed the news of the public accommodations bill and feared for their safety, a coalition was hard at work to get the bill passed.

In the spring of 2015, the coalition advocating for the public accommodations bill relaunched itself as Freedom Massachusetts. The coalition was composed of several advocacy groups, many of which had been advocating for trans rights since Sciortino’s initial filing of the bill in 2007. The group was lead by MTPC and Freedom for All Americans (FFA), a new national LGBTQ advocacy organization. Keshet, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization promoting full inclusion of LGBTQ people in Jewish life, joined the steering committee and became active in the campaign.

In a matter of months, the coalition had procured dozens of public supporters, from big businesses such as Google and Liberty Mutual to labor unions, faith leaders, law enforcement officers, and elected officials across the Commonwealth. 

“Eastern Bank is incredibly proud to stand with and for the transgender community, advocating for commonsense legislation in the face of bigotry and prejudice,” said Nancy Stager, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Charitable Giving at Eastern Bank, a long-time corporate supporter of LGBTQ rights and co-chair of the more than 200 businesses that signed on to support the bill.

Not only did the coalition procure the support of businesses, but also major sports teams in New England. On November 11, the Boston Red Sox officially endorsed the campaign. In January, the New England Patriots followed suit.

A palpable momentum was being built around the public accommodations bill. In October, just a few weeks after a well-attended rally at the State House in support of the bill, a public hearing was held where both opponents and proponents spoke about the legislation.

As members of the legislature ironed out details of the bill in various committees, Governor Baker’s public ambivalence about signing it into law, should it reach his desk, continued steadily.

On the evening of April 13, Boston Spirit Magazine held an LGBTQ networking event at the Marriott Hotel in Boston’s Copley Square. The organizers of the event asked Governor Baker to be its keynote speaker and members of the trans community quickly organized an informational action. Baker’s speech caused a backlash amongst several audience members when he refused to make a commitment to signing the bill, instead promising that he will talk to “all parties involved” when the bill arrives on his desk. The Governor abruptly ended his speech as heckles arose from the crowd. David Zimmerman, publisher of Boston Spirit Magazine, referred to Baker’s speech as “remarkably tone deaf” while members of the trans community expressed outrage.

About a week later, after mounting public pressure, Governor Baker appeared to change his stance on the issue and released a statement through his press office stating his belief that, “ … people should use the restroom facility they feel comfortable using.” (http://goo.gl/JHy8mI)

The Senate passed a version of the public accommodations bill on May 12 by a vote of 33 to 4, but the most derision around the public accommodations bill was in the House. On June 1, the members of the House held a debate and vote on the public accommodations bill. Hundreds of supporters and opponents of the bill flocked to the State House. Multiple representatives gave impassioned speeches, including Rushing.

“I was most impressed with Byron Rushing’s comment and clarification that this is a civil rights law, not a trans rights law,” said Grace Stevens, a trans woman from Lexington. “This is what we have been saying for so long, and it is wonderful for our leaders to be saying the same thing.”

But not all of the speeches were in support of the bill. People like Andrew Asquith, a trans man who worked as an intern for MTPC last summer advocating for the bill, said that often the language used by conservative legislators to describe transgender identities and experiences was hurtful and can escalate into violence. Though not at the debate, Asquith was accustomed to hearing polarizing language used to describe transgender people.

“The popular rhetoric surrounding public accommodations protections, but namely in regards to sex-segregated spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms, was not only misguided, but also carried violent repercussions for trans people (transfeminine people and trans women of color in particular),” he said. “It was discouraging and hurtful to hear legislators, elected to represent us, regurgitating these harmful stereotypes. Personally, [I feel] the passage of this bill signifies that people are beginning to understand trans experiences, albeit slowly.”

By a vote of 116 to 36, the House passed its version of the public accommodations bill. The bill then went into a conference committee along with the Senate bill, the two were reconciled, and July 8 saw Governor Baker signing the bill into law.

“First, I want to give a big congrats to the executive director, staff, board, supporters, and volunteers of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition,” said Gunner Scott, former executive director of MTPC and one of the original advocates to work with Sciortino on the bill. “Over 15 years ago, we set out to create an organization that tackled [the] lack of legal recognition and the issues that transgender people face, first and foremost. Making the lives of transgender youth, adults, and families better was our primary goal and at the time there was no organization that made the needs and issues of transgender people a visible and primary piece of their work. Passing this final piece of basic protections is a significant part of fulfilling that goal. This could not have been won without the tenacious, steadfast, and courageous transgender community advocating for as hard and as long we did.”

The excitement and sense of accomplishment was infectious as LGBTQ organizations sounded off about the signing of the bill in a blue state run by a Republican governor.  

“This tremendous victory is a testament to the transformative power of storytelling,” said Kasey Suffredini, chief program officer for FFA and co-chair of the Freedom Massachusetts coalition. “Since this bill was first introduced nine years ago, transgender people courageously have come forward to educate lawmakers about our experiences with discrimination and to dispel myths and stereotypes about who we are.”

Tom Bourdon, executive director of Greater Boston PFLAG, said that the victory in Massachusetts will set a powerful standard for other states.

“This victory continues to send the message that trans and gender nonconforming people and their rights matter, and … like everyone else, must have the protection of the law wherever they go in this country.”

Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of BAGLY and a longtime advocate for trans rights, when asked to describe the victory in one word, said:

“There’s such a complicated history with this particular bill that some words that come to mind are ‘Justice,’ ‘Historic,’ and ‘Overdue.’

“This latest legislative victory is the culmination of decades of local and national community and legislative advocacy which has focused on building community, developing coalitions, and educating the public about the needs and challenges facing the transgender/non-binary communities.”

What the bill does

“Before this bill passed, I worried whether I would be denied critical services because I was trans, especially in a doctor’s office or hospital at a time when I needed the services the most,” said John Mills. He asked that his real name and hometown not be identified in this article.

 “I have had some uncomfortable experiences in healthcare settings and I knew that if I was ever denied medical care, there would be nothing I could do about it legally in this state.”

The 55-year-old experienced that fear in more areas than just hospitals and doctor’s offices. Mills said that he experienced a hostile encounter once at a restaurant with a friend.
“After we sat there for a while, one of [the staff] finally came over and took our order but I’m not sure she turned it into the kitchen,” he said. “We sat there for quite a while longer and I noticed that the waitresses and the patrons who were sitting at the tables behind us were talking about us, and most of them were drinking.”

Mills said that the comments became “louder and more aggressive” to the point where he and his friend were uncomfortable.

“Some of the people were questioning our genders and ridiculing our appearance. My friend suggested that we leave because it didn’t look as though we were going to be served and the atmosphere was becoming hostile toward us. They didn’t actually state that they were refusing to serve us—they just didn’t serve us. And the staff seemed to be encouraging the nasty comments that were being directed at us.”

With the bill’s passage, gender identity will become a protected class in public spaces in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) will formulate language on when and how gender identity can be evidenced in public spaces. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office will provide regulations and guidance to law enforcement agencies on how to bring legal action against a person who asserts their gender identity for improper purposes. These regulations will be submitted to the State Legislature by September 1 and the new law will go into effect on October 1.

Both MTPC and GLAD will be taking leadership roles in ensuring implementation of the bill.

MCAD will handle all gender identity discrimination complaints after the law goes into effect. When asked by The Rainbow Times to clear up common misconceptions about the implementation of the bill in sex segregated facilities, H Harrison, Assistant to the Commissioners for MCAD, said the following:

“Regarding bathrooms, this bill allows individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Transgender persons were already protected in employment pursuant to a law passed in 2011 that prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and credit, based on an individual’s gender identity. In regards to business owners with public bathrooms, they must allow individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Any criminal behavior that happens in a bathroom is illegal, and businesses should contact the authorities if there is concern that unlawful behavior is occurring on their premises.”

On July 18, GLAD and MTPC held a webinar on the new public accommodations legislation and discussed the specifics of the law in detail.

But the fight for public accommodations protections in Massachusetts hasn’t ended yet.

The Ballot Question

On July 18, Keep Massachusetts Safe (KMS), a coalition of concerned Massachusetts voters, filed a referendum petition to repeal the public accommodations law. According to state law, the coalition will have to collect 32,375 signatures within 90 days of the law being signed.

“This new bathroom bill eliminates my right and the rights of my children to privacy in public accommodations like bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and changing rooms,” said Ashley King of Weston, a concerned mother and one of the organizers of the coalition. “By taking away our rights, this law threatens the safety of my family. I should be able to feel safe, and not have to worry about men pretending to be women and undressing or showering next to me at the gym or public swimming pool.”

“While public accommodations were specifically removed from an earlier draft of the 2011 law, MCAD has been using the same legal interpretation as the Justice Department by including gender identity under the umbrella of existing sex discrimination law,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, an organization assisting the KMS campaign. “In this way, claims of discrimination on the basis of gender identity were adjudicated by MCAD as a form of sex discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodations is against the law in Massachusetts, with the notable exception of bathrooms, locker-rooms, and other lawfully sex-segregated facilities. This is why the only real change that the new transgender public accommodations law creates is in the contentious area of bathrooms, etc.”

Beckwith referenced testimony submitted on October 7, 2015 from the senior leadership of MCAD to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary specifically stating:

“The MCAD has exercised this authority to investigate and remedy cases of discrimination relating to an individual’s gender identity in places of public accommodation. If an adverse action is taken against a person in a place of public accommodation based upon gender identity, the action may consist of sex, sexual orientation or disability discrimination. For example, if the adverse action results from sex stereotyping, it may rise to the level of sex discrimination. Similarly, the case may be considered in the context of ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘gender identity disorder’ as disability discrimination provided that the transgender person is willing to accept the label that their gender identity is indeed a ‘disorder.’”

Attorney General Maura Healey, an advocate for the bill, refuted this argument in letters she sent to the Joint Judiciary Committee and several legislators.

“Over the past few days, some have suggested that our current laws already protect transgender people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. Let us be very clear: Massachusetts law does not adequately protect transgender people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. Never in our state’s history has a court extended protections under our public accommodations law to a transgender person.

“Opponents to this legislation have invoked decisions from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in seeking to justify their view. Those interpretations are not binding on our courts, so they do not provide clear notice to all people and all businesses across this state that gender identity-based discrimination in places of public accommodation is illegal. That clarity is one reason why the MCAD has publicly expressed strong support for this bill, as the Commission articulated in its October 7, 2015 letter to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.”

When asked to share anecdotes of fearing for her privacy or safety, Ashley King with KMS referred to high-profile news stories.

“Women in a Boston women’s shelter had their privacy violated and felt threatened when a man refused to leave the women’s bathroom there,” she said, noting a 2013 Boston Globe article on Brenda Wernikoff, a transgender woman who sued the City of Boston after being kicked out of a municipal shelter.

Wernikoff was staying at a women’s shelter and using the restroom when she was asked to leave. After refusing, the police were called and, according to Wernikoff, a group of officers arrested her on disorderly conduct charges. Wernikoff alleged that the officers humiliated her at Boston’s South End Police Station by forcing her to take off her shirt and bra and jump up and down. Wernikoff sued the City of Boston and the City settled the lawsuit for $20,000.

“ … because the man claimed to be a woman, he was found to have a ‘right’ to stay and terrorize real women,” King said.

The second incident King referenced involved an article published by conservative online news website, Breitbart. The June 16 article, “Police looking for Target peeper in Revere, Massachusetts” detailed the Revere Police Department’s search for a man who allegedly watched a 17-year-old girl undress in a Target department store dressing room. The article, however, made no mention of the man identifying as transgender or using a gender identity defense to explain his actions in the dressing room.

King also cited an incident in Seattle in which a man undressing in a women’s changing room at a swimming pool allegedly said, “the law has changed and I have a right to be here,” when confronted by staff. In December, Washington state passed a policy allowing transgender people to use the facilities that most closely correspond to their gender identity. The article King referenced did quote a representative from Seattle Parks and Recreation as saying that, when confronted, the man did not identify himself as female; the representative also said that he did not feel as though the situation was a “transgender issue.”

The ballot initiative by Keep Massachusetts Safe has infuriated members of the trans community and their allies.

“The first question I want to ask is ‘Keep who safe?’” said Damian Lima, 30, a transgender man from Boston. “Transgender people are far more likely to be assaulted and harassed in bathrooms than anyone else. They are obviously not thinking of keeping me safe, or transgender kids safe.

“My second thought is that they are not being honest about their true concerns. If their true concern was the assault of women and the safety of children, they would be fighting against rape culture. They would be advocating for rape and assault victims’ rights and not against one of the populations more likely to be sexually assaulted.”

According to a 2012 report on bias and discrimination against transgender people from the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 64% of the study’s respondents reported being sexually assaulted.

“A ballot campaign to remove anti-discrimination protections for anybody in our society is reprehensible and I would argue unconstitutional and should be challenged in court,” said Senator Stan Rosenberg, President of the Massachusetts State Senate and a vocal supporter of the bill.

Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, who played a pivotal role in the bill’s passage along with Rosenberg, confirmed that he is opposed to the ballot initiative also.

The Rainbow Times made several unsuccessful attempts for comment from Representative Jim Lyons, a supporter of the ballot initiative who voted against the public accommodations bill.

The Rainbow Times also made several attempts to interview Governor Baker for this story, but no response was received from the Governor’s press office.

Andrew Beckwith with the MFI said that he was disappointed with Governor Baker’s decision to sign the bill into law.

“We let the governor’s staff know we were very disappointed,” he said. “There has been no official response.”

When asked by the The Rainbow Times whether the Governor had spoken to representatives of the MFI unofficially, Beckwith declined to answer.

“Sadly, this is a last-ditch effort, by a small fringe group, to strip trans people of basic protections,” said Mason Dunn, executive director of MTPC and co-chair of the Freedom Massachusetts coalition. “It is an example of why these anti-bias protections are critically needed in the first place.”

Dunn referenced a May Suffolk University/_Boston Globe_ poll reporting that more than 50 percent of voters support passage of the bill as further evidence of his contention.

The Aftermath

Early in the process of his transition, Damian Lima, his partner, and several of his friends decided to go out for drinks and ended up at a bar in Sharon, Massachusetts.

“At the time I did not think I was being perceived as male, especially being around other people who identified as lesbian and [wore men’s] clothes,” he said. “Late into the night I needed to go to the bathroom, I felt nervous and my friends graciously decided to go to the [women’s] bathroom with me. We went in, used the facilities and went out with no issue.”

But the situation became tense. Lima says an intoxicated young man approached him while he was purchasing drinks at the bar and said, “Hey, this dude just went to the women’s restroom.”

Lima ignored him, but the drunk patron persisted.

“Hey buddy, how was the women’s restroom?” he asked.

“Hoping that my high pitched voice would give away the sex I was assigned at birth, I said: ‘It was clean.’” Lima said.

“ … his friends came to get him. I think he was too drunk to have noticed my voice because he kept laughing and telling his friends that I had used the women’s bathroom. At that moment the drinks I had ordered came in, I didn’t even wait for change, [I]  just took the drinks and left to find my friends and partner.

“I was nervous but my partner was pretty upset, she kept saying that the next time I was confronted like that I should say that I was a woman. I said no, I was going to use men’s bathrooms from then on.”

Lima’s experience is just one that many transgender people face when confronted with restroom choices. Though the experience unnerved him, the passage of the bill has given him hope.

“It … means that the world is slowly becoming more livable for people like me,” he said.

Chastity Bowick, a trans woman from Worcester, has also experienced her fair share of discrimination. According to Bowick, she was denied service at a Boston restaurant several years ago and was harassed while on the MBTA. When she approached a transit officer and told him of the harassment, he allegedly said, “If you weren’t dressed like that it wouldn’t happen.”
October 1 will mark the first day of the new legislation, but the threat of the ballot initiative looms over the victory.

“ … there are some in our Commonwealth who want to interfere with the ability of transgender people to exercise [their] rights,” said Representative Rushing. “It is our job to interrupt that interference.”

Representative Rushing and other legislators, advocates, and members and allies of the trans community are resolved to see the ballot initiative defeated, but there are many who balk at the idea that transgender people are still believed to be second-class citizens.

“I have a good job, I own my own home, I pay my taxes, I am an active member of my Episcopal church—I contribute to society in positive ways and I am not unique in the trans community in this regard,” said John Mills, who said he was incredulous at the idea of the ballot initiative.

Mills expressed his outrage even further by asking several tough questions:

“Why does an imagined, unsubstantiated harm to non-trans people outweigh the real harm experienced consistently by transgender people? When we look at real harm to women and children in this society—violence, rape, pedophilia, spousal abuse, etc.—the majority of it comes at the hands of non-trans men. How is the opposition addressing this problem? Why are they not directing even a fraction of their time, energy and money to these real, substantiated problems?”

Bowick vowed to oppose the ballot initiative and see its defeat.

“I find it to be bulls**t,” she said. “It is their right to appeal, but it is also within my rights to make sure it does not go through.”

Minister Louis Mitchell, an assistant minister for South Congregational Church in Springfield, Mass., says that the MFI, which bills itself as “affirming Judeo-Christian values,” is not practicing what it preaches.

“One of the first things we learn is the 10 Commandments—the ways that the MFI is using misguided and unfounded fears falls under the category of ‘bearing false witness,’” said Minister Mitchell, a transgender man. “There is no documentation of any increased risk, criminality, or anything else attached to equal public accommodations. It’s very telling when inciting people to fear is the ‘strength’ of your initiative.”

Carl Sciortino said that the ballot initiative will do little good and much harm.

“I think the LGBTQ community is a great example of the importance of resilience,” he said. “As a community, we’ve faced lots of trauma, lots of grief. Just think about the AIDS epidemic, what it’s done to our community. We are resilient people. But for younger people who don’t have a lot of time or life experience under their belt, who are just coming to terms with their own identities, seeing other people intentionally or otherwise, undermine their human worth and dignity … it’s hard to be resilient when you don’t have a lot to fall back on as a young person. So I think part of our job as a community, is not only to defeat the ballot question, which we will do, but also work to support people in our community who will experience this as trauma, grief, and assault.”

Deborah Shield’s, executive director for MassEquality, which sits on the Freedom Massachusetts steering committee, agreed.

“They’re spending a lot of time and money … to be divisive and oppressive,” she said of organizations like the MFI. “They don’t want to see people enjoy full citizenship, which is really disappointing because they lay claim to Christianity. The Christianity I’m familiar with is about alleviating suffering. This initiative is about causing suffering.”

Senator Chang-Diaz said that Massachusetts can still serve as an example for other states.

“ … a lot of people are hurting right now when it comes to the state of civil rights in our country. People need to see this law as a glimmer of hope that when you show up and tell your stories in a personal way, change can happen.”

Thinking more locally, Representative Denise Provost, said that the bill’s passage will ultimately set a standard for how we treat others.

“Establishing full legal equality creates a baseline of expectation for how trans people are treated, and business conducted, in Massachusetts,” she said. “It’s the necessary starting point for access and inclusion, and ultimately, creating a social atmosphere of respect and acceptance.”

And then there’s Andrew Amanda, who is realistic that change won’t come overnight, but is still optimistic.

“I have no delusions that filing a discrimination complaint is an easy process … Still it is comforting to have that groundwork in place, even if actual enforcement and cultural change will require a lot of education.”

In September, Andrew Amanda will start a Masters of Divinity and Masters of Social Work dual-program at Boston University. Their experiences with their church were overwhelming, but the recent passage of the bill, though still in question with the ballot initiative, is uplifting:

“With national debates raging about where (and specifically if) people like me can use the restroom, particularly in ways that are perpetually degrading, it was a relief to know that my home state sees me as a person, worthy of equal protection.”

 

Also From The Web

Be the first to comment on "Exclusive: Massachusetts Bill Provides Explicit Legal Protections for Transgender People in Public Spaces"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*