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Jane Doe and Mass. NOW tackle the bathroom argument

by Ethan Jacobs

Bay Windows

Monday March 3, 2008

The main argument advanced by the Coalition for Marriage and Family against House Bill 1722 is that it would put the safety of women and children at risk by allowing access to women's bathrooms and locker rooms by assailants claiming to be transgender. But two state organizations that are on the front lines of protecting women's safety, the domestic violence and sexual assault coalition Jane Doe, Inc., and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), argue that such claims are simply fear-mongering. The two organizations released the following statement to lawmakers to try to put to rest any question that the transgender rights bill would threaten women and children:

As organizations dedicated to the rights and safety of women throughout the Commonwealth, Jane Doe, Inc. and Mass. NOW support HB 1722, "An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes." That bill would amend the Commonwealth's hate crimes and key non-discrimination statutes to be explicitly inclusive of transgender people by adding "gender identity or expression" as a protected characteristic therein. It is our understanding that many legislators recently received correspondence from the Coalition for Marriage and Family (CMF), raising concerns about the bill which are both misleading and unfounded. We are writing to correct any misunderstanding that CMF may have created.

The purpose of HB 1722 is to protect transgender people and other gender non-conforming individuals from violence and discrimination. It does not alter individuals' privacy nor expectations of safety in restrooms. CMF's claim that this bill will "threaten bathroom and locker room safety" for women is a deliberate scare tactic. An individual who enters a women's bathroom to harass or attack women would emphatically not be protected by this law. Moreover, thirteen other states, the District of Columbia, as well as cities such as Boston, Cambridge, and Northampton already enjoy the protections of similar legislation and have experienced no consequential interference in privacy rights. Many transgender women and men use the bathroom that is consistent with their gender identity and gender expression, and are no more a threat to bathroom safety and privacy than are other individuals.

As you know, violence against women in our society is a very real issue, and this bill is intended to curb the violence regularly experienced by those whose gender identity or gender expression does not conform to others' expectations, not create false assertions about women's safety. For example, on June 2, 2007, J. Nickola, a 22-year-old transgender woman, was brutally attacked and beaten by three men on a public street in downtown Lowell, where she is a resident. The Lowell Sun newspaper reported that Nickola was:

"...repeatedly hit in the head and face, even after she was knocked to the ground. Her attackers continued to shout slurs against her and told her, "We don't want your kind in this neighborhood." After the attack, Nickola made her way to the police substation where she was met by a Lowell police officer who observed Nickola's injuries, which included a partially severed lip."

Incidents such as this illustrate the violence experienced by some transgender women and demonstrate the crucial need for the passage of H.B. 1722. For CMF to deliberately create an unfounded fear about women's safety, while simultaneously ignoring the serious threats to safety experienced by many transgender and gender non-conforming people in the Commonwealth, is disgraceful. We urge you to see this claim for what it is -- a deliberate scare tactic -- and to vote in favor of HB 1722 in order to bring safety and security to all women of the Commonwealth.

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