Fear and Loathing in Bathroom Bills

04/27/2016 07:53 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2017

It has been in the national news a lot, but a lot of people don't know what it means to be a transgender person. Frankly, three years ago, neither did I. When I studied psychology and neuroscience in college over 15 years ago, I learned that sex is what it is to be biologically male or female, whereas gender is what it is to be psychologically male or female. In most people, they are usually the same, but sometimes they are not.

Since becoming a State Representative, I have also come to understand that a lot of people think being transgender is cross dressing; these are completely different. I have learned what pronoun to use when addressing someone who is transgender -- use the pronoun consistent with their gender identity. Being transgender isn't something that you one day wake up and realize you are, or switching back and forth between genders at will; becoming transgender is a process of self-discovery that can happen at any age in life. It can be very confusing and even scary. But eventually, someone who is a transgender person is comfortable with who they are. Gender identity isn't optional. It is at the core of who you are.

While some states are taking steps to limit LGBT rights, I have been getting a lot of emails from constituents asking me to oppose or support the so-called Massachusetts 'bathroom bill' H.1577, of which I am a co-sponsor.

First of all, nowhere in the bill is the word bathroom used. My use of the word bathroom in the title of this article is catchy but very misleading about what the bill is about.

The bill is about all public accommodations. One definition I found stated that:

In US law, public accommodations are generally defined as facilities, both public and private, used by the public. Examples include retail stores, rental establishments and service establishments as well as educational institutions, recreational facilities, and service centers.

This bill seeks to protect transgender people from discrimination in public spaces. This bill is about civil rights. One definition I found stated that

Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.

Most of the opposition to the bill comes in the form of fear mongering. The same people who opposed same sex marriage claimed it would destroy marriage, yet divorce rates are down. Now, the same opponents claim that passage of the bill will make women and children less safe. This is just not true. Protecting the civil rights of transgender people doesn't permit others to break the law. One transgender person wrote:

The legislators introducing these bills [to ban anti-LGBT legislation] claim they are about public safety. But it's important to know that in the 18 states (and more than 200 cities) that have laws and ordinances protecting transgender people from discrimination, there have been no increases in public safety incidents. None. Why? Because there are laws in every state which make it illegal for anyone to enter a restroom to harm or harass people, or invade their privacy. Police use those laws to arrest perpetrators and keep people safe. Protecting LGBT people from discrimination doesn't change that!

Think about it. A transgender person going into a restroom is going in for the same reason as someone who is not transgender. If someone is in there taking pictures or being a voyeur or doing anything else inappropriate or illegal, that is already against the law. Protecting transgender public accommodation rights doesn't change that.

I have published over two dozen articles on sex offenders and keeping kids safe from sex offenders. I worked in prison and jail, and have a master's in criminology. In late April, I was contacted by a film producer to be interviewed for their documentary on sex offenders. I know more about sex offenders than most people. Preventing a transgender person from using a restroom consistent with his or her gender identity has nothing to do with keeping women and kids safe from sex offenders. This bill is about civil rights.

Can I promise you that no one will ever try to exploit this legislation? No. But I can't promise you that guns, cars, alcohol, or the internet won't be abused either. And we don't deny people the right to bear arms, drive a car, or use the internet because others may shoot someone with a gun, drink and drive, or promote child abuse on the internet. In short, we don't deny someone rights because others may abuse those rights. That would be wrong.

Gender identity is at the core of who we are. No one should be discriminated against based on their gender identity. That is why I support transgender public accommodation rights.

Paul Heroux is a State Representative from Massachusetts. He can be contacted at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.