Women who work in sexual violence prevention threw their support Thursday behind Question 3, the question on the Nov. 6 election ballot that asks voters whether they want to preserve antidiscrimination protections for transgender people in places of public accommodation.
“I can’t believe this is something that we have to fight for — that our friends and our family would not experience the indignities, the demoralizing and demeaning things they have because of culture and because of discriminatory laws,” said City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, now a Democratic congressional nominee. “These are basic civil rights that should never be decided by popular vote.”
The sexual violence experts and activists denounced the opposition’s argument that women and children are endangered by the antidiscrimination law, which lets transgender people use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
“I can tell you with certainty that protecting transgender people has zero negative consequences on the safety of women and children,” said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “Especially given the fact that many transgender folks are women and children, and the fact that transgender folks themselves face some of the highest rates of sexual violence.”
On the opposing side, the “No on 3” campaign working to repeal the antidiscrimination law has focused its message on public safety, suggesting that predators will take advantage of the law to infiltrate women’s restrooms. The law, enacted in 2016 and signed by Governor Charlie Baker, ensures that transgender people have equal access to public spaces, from restaurants to Red Sox games. Gender identity is defined as someone’s sincerely held sense of self and need not correspond with an individual’s physical appearance or gender assigned at birth.
The women who spoke in favor of the law and the ballot question noted that those fears have not borne out in the two years since the law was enacted.
“The truth is that the law has been in place for the past few years and there has been no increase whatsoever in criminal activity in public restrooms,” Scaramella said.
As such, female activists said they do not believe that opponents of the ballot question are trying to protect women’s safety.
“As a survivor of sexual assault, I can say with clear conviction that this is simply hate-filled rhetoric that this law will make it so that women and children are less safe,” Pressley said.
“We will not be a political prop or pawn in your hate-mongering and division,” she added.
Sarah Schnorr, a transgender attorney, said repealing the law would prevent professionals like herself from participating fully in public life.
“If you can’t ride the T or take a cab to get to work, if you can’t enter a public library to use a free computer to apply for a job, if you can’t go into to a restaurant to buy lunch, if you can’t use the restroom in your office building and if you can be denied treatment in an emergency room simply for being trans, you’re being told you’re an abomination and you don’t deserve to live and work in a civic society,” she said. “Don’t let Massachusetts tell us that.”
The Yes on 3 campaign announced the support of 50 Massachusetts sexual assault prevention agencies and women’s groups, including Rosie’s Place, the Center for Hope & Healing, Inc., and March Forward Massachusetts, and unveiled a new digital ad which features survivors of sexual assault who are supporters.Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert