This election cycle, there’s a question on the Massachusetts ballot on whether to keep in place a state law that poses a serious threat to the privacy and safety of women and children.
Question 3 on the state ballot asks if residents of the state would like to keep in place the current law, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation,” allowing biological males to access the personal facilities of females and vice versa.
Repealing the law would make Massachusetts a safer place, especially for women and children.
The law in question, passed in 2016, changed state law so that access to sex-specific spaces would be granted not on the basis of sex, but of gender identity.
The law defines gender identity as “a person’s sincerely held gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not it is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”
It is not difficult to imagine the implications of this policy.
Take, for example, what happened to the 5-year-old daughter of Pascha Thomas under a similar policy in Decatur, Georgia.
In 2017, Thomas’ daughter was assaulted by a male classmate who identified as female in the girls’ restroom at kindergarten. When Thomas brought the incident to the attention of the school, it claimed that there was nothing it could do, given the school’s policy, since it granted access to sex-specific facilities on the basis of the preference of the individual student.
State Sen. Eric Lesser, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the original 2016 bill—signed into law by a nominal Republican governor, Charlie Baker—downplayed the concerns of women and parents, accusing them of “fearmongering.”
However, the senator fails to realize the full implications of this policy.
The law’s definition neglects to provide a standard for who can claim access to a given space. Without a clear, objective biological standard, the law is rendered unable to determine who belongs where.
A 2017 Heritage Foundation report documented more than 130 cases of predators taking advantage of such policies to gain access to victims in restrooms, locker rooms, and shower areas.
When women and children can no longer expect a clear standard to determine who can and cannot be present in sex-specific spaces, they become less likely to report inappropriate encounters, such as voyeurism or indecent exposure, and instead suppose they have misunderstood the incident.
Law enforcement also becomes less likely to get involved in incidents involving gender identity claims. For one thing, a gender identity standard makes it harder to prove that predators intended to commit a crime—not to mention that law enforcement may be reluctant to get involved for fear of being accused of discrimination.
While this law poses a risk to all women, those who have been victims of previous sexual assault are particularly vulnerable. Being forced to share intimate spaces with biological males or being exposed to male anatomy can be particularly distressing to assault victims.
For example, take the Hope Center, a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking in Anchorage, Alaska.
The center is facing a formal complaint under the city’s gender identity policy, similar to the law in Massachusetts, after a biological male who identifies as female attempted to access the center’s overnight facilities.
Women fleeing violence and abuse deserve privacy when it comes to showers, changing rooms, and sleeping areas. Overly broad policies like the ones in Anchorage and Massachusetts leave them vulnerable to additional trauma.
The best way to protect these women is to ensure that they are granted bodily privacy—something current Massachusetts law entirely disregards.
It is worth mentioning that restoring Massachusetts law to an objective biological standard need not preclude solutions for transgender individuals. However, such accommodations should not come at the cost of bodily privacy and safety for people across the board, particularly women and children.
Local institutions and authorities should work together to craft reasonable policies that keep everyone safe, rather than statewide, one-size-fits-all policies that leave huge groups of people at risk.
Only when we can guarantee the privacy and safety of women and children can we pursue solutions that meet the needs of all citizens.