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However, studies have shown that allowing transgender individuals to use public spaces that properly align with their gender identity is crucial to maintaining their physical and mental health.
In 2013, Fenway Health conducted a survey within the Massachusetts transgender community to assess how much harassment and discrimination transgender people faced after the passing of the 2011 bill. Out of 452 people surveyed, 65 percent reported experiencing some sort of discrimination pertaining to public accommodations within the previous year.
“Non-discrimination protections are key to transgender people being able to live full and productive lives as themselves,” Cunningham said. “So is access to healthcare, access to accurate identity documents and freedom from violence.”
Alex Ahmed, a Northeastern graduate student and transgender woman, said there is no reason for the bill not to pass.
“I don’t think it should even be a debate,” Ahmed said. “I honestly don’t even understand the arguments against it. Forcing us out of bathrooms or other gendered spaces is a great way to deny a trans person their right to exist.”
Referring to the legislation as a “bathroom bill” – a term largely frowned upon within the transgender community – Alexandre said the language of the bill reveals its “true intentions.” He said its main objective is to allow transgender individuals to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.
“If this bill was not specifically targeting bathrooms, then the 2011 bill would be sufficient,” Alexandre said.
The bill, however, covers a wide variety of public places. Focusing solely on bathrooms misses the point of the legislation, according to Mason J. Dunn, president of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.
“We’re talking about a very large category of spaces that don’t have any protections against discrimination,” Dunn said. “Obviously there are bathrooms in public accommodations, but that is not public accommodations alone.”
To illustrate the bill’s necessity, Dunn told the story of a transgender man who stopped riding the T due to the level of aggression he received from other riders.
Dunn’s story speaks to a larger issue – the prejudice and animosity those in the transgender community regularly face. The public accommodations bill would relieve some of those issues, but would do little to change the views of those who discriminate against transgender people, according to Cunningham.
“Changing laws is certainly part of changing the way society looks at groups of people, but that is only part of the work,” said Cunningham.
Ahmed cautioned that the bill would not solve all the problems facing the transgender community.
“It’s good that a trans person theoretically has some recourse if they encounter transphobia in a public space,” Ahmed said. “But it does not address transphobia itself, obviously, just like no law can address sexism, racism or homophobia.”
Others said the law seems too vague to be truly effective, worrying that discrimination is often too vague to quantify.
“The only hesitation I have with laws against discrimination is how they’re going to be enforced,” Daniella Emami, third-year International Affairs and Human Services major, said.
Ultimately, no law has the ability to alter society’s perception of the transgender community, said Ahmed. According to The Advocate, a publication focused on LGBT rights, at least 22 transgender women have been murdered in the US this year.
“Laws won’t stop people from treating us terribly in bathrooms or other public spaces,” Ahmed said. “Laws aren’t stopping people from killing us.”
Photo courtesy Tim Pierce, Creative Commons