The Nov. 6 referendum on whether Massachusetts should repeal the state’s transgender antidiscrimination law involves core questions of personal dignity and respect, advocates on both sides of the issue argued in a debate broadcast Tuesday on WBUR radio.
Kasey Suffredini, a transgender man who is helping lead the fight to retain the 2016 law, said the statute protects the rights of transgender people to pursue their lives without fear of discrimination in public places such as stores, restaurants, and hotels.
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, countered that the law does not adequately protect the rights of those who object to transgender people in public restrooms and locker rooms.
The hour-long debate on WBUR’s “Radio Boston,” moderated by Deborah Becker of WBUR and reporter Stephanie Ebbert of The Boston Globe, was consistently civil. However, Suffredini and Beckwith’s broad disagreements repeatedly focused on the rights of transgender people to use rest rooms they identify with, regardless of whether they have undergone sex change surgery or other anatomical changes.
“Biology is biology, and anatomy is anatomy,” Beckwith said.
Suffredini, cochair of the “Yes on 3” campaign, countered that the statute provides adequate protection against sexual predators who would take advantage of the law to gain access to bathrooms and other facilities for the opposite sex.
Suspicious behavior in a restroom or changing facility can be reported at any time without fear of violating the statute, Suffredini said. In any event, he added, transgender people act with the same modesty as others.
Known as Question 3, the ballot question — a “yes’ vote would preserve the law, while a “no” vote would repeal it — is being closely watched around the nation.
Suffredini added there is no evidence that the law poses a danger to public safety, citing a study conducted by a think tank associated with the UCLA School of Law that found no correlation in Massachusetts between crimes committed in bathrooms and civil rights safeguards for transgender people.
Beckwith dismissed that study, by the Williams Institute, as a product of “left-wing” bias and cited a Canadian study that reported dramatic increases in voyeurism in all-gender restrooms and fitting rooms at Target department stores.
Beckwith said opposition to the Massachusetts law is not at odds with the rights of transgender people to live free of discrimination. Rather, opponents want respect for the rights of women and others who feel uncomfortable changing or sharing rest rooms with transgender people whose anatomy remains male, he said.
“We’re not doing away with any rights,” Beckwith said. The Massachusetts law, which requires sexual identity to be “sincerely held,” is “impossible to police,” he added.
Beckwith cited a recent allegation that a kindergarten girl in Georgia had been sexually assaulted in a bathroom at a school with a transgender policy.
“I don’t think we should have to wait until something like that happens in Massachusetts,” Beckwith said.
Suffredini responded that all the facts have yet to be determined in the Georgia case and questioned its relevance to Massachusetts.
Many law enforcement officials here have shown strong support for transgender protections, he said.
Abolishing the statute would send a message that “Massachusetts is not a safe or welcoming place for transgender people,” Suffredini said. “This is not about policy or politics, it’s about people.”
Suffredini offered a personal note about the law’s impact.
“I have faced discrimination, and I don’t want anyone else to go through that,” Suffredini said. “This law is everything,” he added. “It’s our ability to go out in public and not look over our shoulder.”Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.