By Daniela Jusino
Massachusetts House Bill 1577 (H. 1577) sets out to provide the state’s transgender citizens equal rights in all public spaces. The bill, which is a public accommodations bill, aims to make it legal for all transgender individuals to have the same rights as other citizens in public places like hospitals, restaurants, and yes, bathrooms and locker rooms.
Opponents of the bill are most concerned with public safety and how the legislation they call the Bathroom Bill will affect families and young women in public restrooms.
“We refer to it as the Bathroom Bill, and the reason we do that is because when we look through the bill and parse through what it would do, the main impact of that bill, legally, is to eliminate biological privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of Massachusetts Family Institute or MFI.
MFI is one of the most outspoken organizations against H. 1577 and its members hold regular lobby days at the State House to spread awareness of what they consider to be an important issue.
“Public accommodations includes more than just bathrooms and advocates for the bill talk about people being denied access to restaurants and hospitals,” Beckwith said. “What we have found based on requests to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is that they are already handling successfully claims of discrimination in public accommodations based on existing laws, with the exception of bathrooms and locker rooms.”
MFI stands by the claim that people who identify as transgender are already covered in public spaces that just happen to not be restrooms. Lorelei Erisis, who is transgender, wants to know where MFI expects her to use the restroom if not where she feels most comfortable.
“I’m a human being and I’m often in public so I’m going to use the public restrooms. I’m not going to go into the men’s room looking like this because that’s asking to get my ass kicked,” said Erisis.
To be clear, current laws around restrooms are non-existent. Legally, anyone can use any restroom that they wish,. There are social norms that most people follow in public facilities, but there is no legal enforcement specifically for sex-segregated bathrooms, said State Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville, who sponsored the bill.
State Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover, on the other hand, has expressed concern over the issue. He said this new legislation is just opening up a can of worms for a whole host of safety issues where anyone can use whichever restroom they want.
“Let’s just assume a little girl goes into the bathroom,” Lyons said. “And while she’s in the bathroom, she walks by and sees this 15-year-old, fully developed male and the little girl says, ‘What are you doing here?’ and he says, ‘I have a right to be here.’ That little girl gets a little afraid because when she goes into the restroom, she expects the right to privacy and protection.”
Erisis begs to differ. As a woman who presents herself as such, she says she has experienced almost no issues. In all her years living as a woman, she says she has been in the frightened minority – and not the other way around.
“I identify as a woman, I present myself as a woman and so it’s appropriate for me to use the women’s restroom. If anyone’s afraid, it’s usually me,” Erisis said.
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), the organization that is helping fight for H. 1577 said public safety laws are not the ones up for debate. Executive Director Mason Dunn insists that everything that is illegal now will stay illegal in any case of misconduct.
“We know [this] will be safe and it’s an important legislation because it’s already passed in 18 other states. Never has this legislation been used in any kind of criminal activity that opponents like to speak about,” said Dunn.