The state of Massachusetts is currently facing a watershed moment regarding its position on the status of transgender individuals. While the 2012 Transgender Equal Rights Act prohibits discrimination against transgender people in their access to public education and jobs, loopholes in the law have allowed gender-identity based discrimination to continue in access to public facilities such as gyms, malls and restrooms. The Transgender Public Accommodations Bill aims to change this and has been dubbed the “Bathroom Bill.” It has been attacked by those concerned that the bill would harm the privacy of women and children in bathrooms, while transgender activists have lauded the bill as a necessary step in eradicating lawful discrimination against transgender people.
There are still individuals and organizations, including the Massachusetts Family Institute, who oppose the bill supposedly out of concern for the safety of women and children. Women and children are thought to be at risk from sexual predators who would choose to use women’s bathrooms in order to harass or assault women and girls. However, little to no proof for this threat has been accrued by the lawmakers against this legislation. Statistics show that transgender people themselves are drastically more likely to be harassed and attacked when using bathrooms and other gender-segregated public facilities. In a study by the Williams Institute about transgender people’s experiences in Washington, D.C., 68 percent of people reported verbal harassment when using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, while nine percent faced physical attacks. The issue of bathroom discrimination also causes health problems for transgender individuals. In the same survey 54 percent reported health issues, such as kidney infections, resulting from a restricted ability to access the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
Political polarization has been driven by increased access to media that reinforces people’s already-held beliefs. Conservatives and liberals engage in often-unproductive battles on social media sites over issues, and transgender-related legislation has become part of this deepening social divide, as seen in the uproar over the North Carolina law that prohibits transgender people from using the bathroom that fits their gender identity.
Nonetheless, rights-related social issues are far different from disagreements over economic and foreign affairs policies. To stand against this bill and against eliminating transgender discrimination is to deny a group of people basic rights, a position that has no legitimacy. This bill will protect the rights of a marginalized group in society, and thus it should be brought to a vote in the Massachusetts legislature as soon as possible. Furthermore, Governor Baker should express his public support for the bill by taking steps to ensure the success of the bill’s passage and an end to discrimination against trans-identifying people in Massachusetts.