Our Opinion: Shameful ballot question threatens transgender people

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A state law enacted in 2016 prohibiting discrimination against transgender residents in public places assured protection for a small, misunderstood group often subjected to abuse. The alarmist concerns advanced by the law's opponents have not become reality since its passage.

Nonetheless, the effort to collect enough signatures to place a referendum repealing the law has succeeded and will go before voters in November. Should it pass, it would again be acceptable to discriminate against transgender people in stores, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and hospitals (Eagle, Dec. 31.)

The state defines gender identity as the gender "sincerely held as part of a person's core identity" regardless of "the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth." Along with discrimination, transgender residents confront harassment and ridicule and have a suicide rate higher than the general population. Transgender students, at an age when conformity and peer pressure are at a premium, are more susceptible to depression and the wounds caused by harassment.     

Efforts to protect this minority in states and some communities around the nation have largely come through so-called "bathroom bills," an unfortunate title that reflect the hang-ups of opponents. Their fear is that the law will enable men to violate the sanctity of women's restrooms.

There are no documented instances of such behavior however. A furor last year about customers being stalked in Target fitting rooms didn't involve transgender individuals at all. In fact, unless and until security guards are installed outside public restrooms, their privacy can be violated whether or not there are transgender laws. Even though foes of laws upholding the rights of transgender individuals claim to be protecting women from harassment, the Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts and women's rights group's like Jane Doe Inc. support the state's transgender anti-discrimination law.

The president of the Massachusetts Family Institute told the Statehouse News Service that the state's definition of gender identity "is something that can be changed from day to day/" Actually, there is no indication that anyone of any gender, including transgender, changes their identity on a daily basis. The MFI and other foes of the law are plainly straining to come up with plausible explanations for stances that are based not on facts but on fear, ignorance and bigotry.

This recalls the arguments made against gay marriage, such as its inevitable destruction of the institution of marriage. Fourteen years after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, marriage is still going strong.

This is far from the first time that special interest groups have taken advantage of the low bar established by the state to place an unfair, misleading, destructive and/or ideologically based referendum question on the state ballot. Massachusetts voters can't always be counted upon to see them for what they are, but in this case they should be able to. This effort targeting the state's admirable law prohibiting discrimination against transgender residents, one of 17 such state laws, is an attempt to take away rights from a group that has struggled to achieve equal treatment. The arguments, so to speak, for this repeal don't stand up to even modest scrutiny.










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