Question 3 — Yes for Transgender Rights (9 Responses)

A Yes vote on Question 3 on the November 6 ballot will approve the legislature’s vote in 2016 to extend full civil rights protections to transgender people.

I led the senate negotiating team in the conference committee that finalized the legislation and sent it on for the two branches and the Governor for approval.

It felt right to me from the beginning. Gender identity is not a simple binary thing – it can be complicated.  But the issue is not complicated: We need to respect and honor transgender people as we do all other people.

For those who initially had trouble with the principle of transgender equality, the key pathway to a yes vote was getting to know some transgender people. They include some of the most brilliant and dynamic people I know, yet they are often vulnerable – to the prejudice of others and, in some cases, to private inner discomfort. I’m passionate about supporting them in their efforts to live safe, full and creative lives.

In 2011, we passed protections for transgender people against discrimination in employment, housing, education and credit. At that time we ducked the issue of protection from discrimination in public accommodations – hospitals, restaurants, transportation and also bathrooms.

In the discussions about the final bill that we passed, all of those at the table expressed commitment to the principle of equality, but we talked a lot about how to make sure that the new protections would not be abused by people with bad intentions.

Under the law that we passed, a transwoman should be able to use the ladies room like any ciswoman (non-transgender woman). This gave rise to three layers of concern.

Some opponents of the legislation suggested that the presence of transgender women in a ladies room would create risks for ciswomen. That’s a patently absurd idea – real transgender women have the same range of sexual orientations as ciswomen and pose no special risks to them.

A second layer of concern was that somehow cismen would masquerade as women and waltz into ladies rooms with bad intentions claiming the new law as cover. All the available data suggest this is not a strategy that molesters actually use – and it hardly seems likely to be an effective one.

The concept of gender identity as we defined it in the law means much more than wearing certain clothes: “Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity.”

That is what is so heartbreaking about the arguments about this issue: Transgender people do have deeply held real gender identities. It is fundamentally disrespectful to suggest that transwomen are simply men in women’s clothes.

The third layer of concern was more legitimate: what guidance to give people who manage public accommodations as to how to sensitively respond if a question is raised by a customer about whether a person belongs in a gender specific area. The managers that some legislators had most in mind were the managers of locker rooms in health clubs.

We did respond by requiring the Attorney General to develop guidance for managers so that they could respond to any customer questions appropriately. That thoughtful guidance appears here and speaks intelligently and respectfully to the managerial dilemmas that could theoretically arise.

I hope that the people give a Yes on Question 3 on November 6 to support our legislative commitment to equality.

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    Will Brownsberger
    State Senator
    2d Suffolk and Middlesex District