‘Bathroom bill’ comes under fire over privacy, safety
By Evan Lips | May 11, 2016, 19:06 EDT
BOSTON – Opponents of a proposal that would let people in Massachusetts use sex-segregated public bathrooms and changing rooms of their choice, regardless of their anatomy, spoke out on Beacon Hill Wednesday against a growing chorus accusing them of discrimination.
Speaking to reporters at the State House, Kaeley Triller shot back at activists who hype the pending legislative proposal as anti-discriminatory.
“When we hear buzzwords like discrimination the immediate human instinct is to recoil and say ‘I won’t have that,’” Triller said. “And I think that’s a travesty because what is happening is that there are a lot of voices that are already silent too often, that have not been given a chance to be heard.”
Her comments, and those of other opponents, came a day before the state Senate plans to take up the controversial “bathroom bill.” The issue of legal guarantees for access to public accommodations based on self-selected “gender identity” has also roiled statehouses from California to North Carolina, and lately even drew the attention of President Barack Obama.
Triller is a rape survivor whose personal account explains why she opposes so-called “bathroom bill” proposals. It went viral shortly after it was published by TheFederalist.com, a conservative online news publication. She recalled how roughly a year ago, while working as a spokeswoman for a YMCA in Washington state, she was asked by her female supervisor to draft talking points to support a transgender-related proposal circulating in the state Legislature in Olympia.
“What I realized she was asking me to do was to draft talking points to sell what would become gender identity-based bathroom and locker room access” legislation, Triller said.
For Triller, who had suffered throughout her childhood by an abuser who she said enjoyed watching her bathe, the thought of a man who claims to identify as a woman entering a sex-specific space like a bathroom or changing room is “re-traumatizing.”
“Nobody on my side of the equation is calling transgendered people sex offenders and It doesn’t matter how many times I say that, it can’t be overstated,” she said. “But what we are standing opposed to is bad policy written on subjective terms that nobody can prove.”
Supporters of the pending Bay State proposal have countered criticisms by saying that existing statutes already criminalize attempts to exploit the measure, should it become law. Opponents have decried the measure as trampling on the privacy rights of women and especially young girls in school settings, where it would apply to locker rooms and showers.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, has said he has the necessary votes to pass the bill, according to the State House News Service.
“Discrimination is not a buzzword,” Rosenberg said in a statement to the news service. “It is a very real problem faced by transgender people in Massachusetts every day.”
“It is imperative that we end discrimination against transgender people as soon as possible,” he said. “The suggestion that passage of the Public Accommodations bill will bring ‘an unwanted male presence’ into women’s rooms is erroneous.”
Others who spoke Wednesday, like Wellesley lawyer Bridget Faye, countered that it “should be a young woman’s choice” as to when she first sees male anatomy.
“We have laws incriminating indecent exposure,” she added. “We’ve fought very hard for women to be able to control our own bodies and control what they feel to be a sexual experience.
“The way that this bathroom bill is written, they (supporters) are undermining all of that work,” Faye said.
The Massachusetts proposal before the Senate specifically calls for changing public accommodation laws governing spaces like bathrooms and changing rooms to “grant all persons admission to and the full enjoyment of such public accommodation or other entity consistent with the person’s gender identity.”
In addition, the proposal would also add “gender identity” to the list of characteristics, such as sex and race, that would be protected against discriminatory policies. A separate version of the measure is pending in the House of Representatives, but the only difference with the Senate bill is that the lower chamber’s includes a provision requiring the state attorney general to set regulations to punish those who use “gender identity for an improper purpose.”
Wednesday’s event, organized by the Massachusetts Family Institute, also featured remarks from two Republican House members, including Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover and Rep. Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton.
Lyons said the bill is “about eliminating long-held expectations of a right to privacy” and added that it is “all about radical progressives pushing a social agenda upon us.”
Lyons also referenced 2011 legislation that added transgender individuals to the list of people protected from access to work or housing. He pointed out that lawmakers stopped short of including a public accommodation provision for a reason: privacy rights.
O’Connell called the definition of gender identity “vague” and claimed that the bill would make “bathrooms and locker rooms essentially a free-for-all.”
Andrew Beckwith, president of the institute, also refuted claims that the legislation is needed to prevent discrimination. Beckwith called the claims “simply false” and pointed out that state law gives people who feel they’ve been victims of improper treatment a way to take legal action before the state Commission Against Discrimination.
“If this gender identity legislation were to pass then the process by which we address gender-discrimination claims concerning public accommodations will remain exactly as it is now,” Beckwith asserted.
The commission has publicly endorsed the bill, claiming that it is needed to further clarify for employers the extent of anti-discrimination laws. Attorney General Maura Healey has also publicly backed the measure.
Beckwith countered that the commission has already adjudicated a series of gender-discrimination claims, including one in which it determined that a hospital acted improperly when a transgender man sought to give birth to a child via artificial insemination.
Beckwith also took aim at Healey, who has told women who would be uncomfortable sharing a restroom with a transgender man that “they can just hold it.”
“I would ask the attorney general and I would ask legislators to listen very carefully to what Ms. Triller has to say,” Beckwith said, shortly before Triller shared her story.
The Massachusetts bill has been a source of controversy for Gov. Charlie Baker. The Republican was loudly jeered during an appearance at a networking event for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender business people in Boston last month after declining to take a position on the issue. Baker reiterated that he would wait until such a bill reached his desk before he decides whether or not to sign it.
The issue escalated on the national level earlier this week after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican seeking re-election in the swing state, refused to buckle to legal threats made by the U.S. Justice Department over a state law that requires people to use public facilities based on their anatomy.
McCrory sued the federal government Monday morning, accusing it of overreach. The Justice Department responded by suing the state, claiming the statute violates the civil rights of transgender people.