On February 22nd, the Trump administration withdrew protections for transgender students put in place by the previous President. A joint “Dear Colleague” letter, drafted and distributed by the Departments of Education and Justice, withdrew provisions laid out by the Obama administration which would require schools to let students use the bathroom associated to their gender identity.
Reactions throughout the country and Commonwealth varied. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker expressed his disappointment at a press conference the following day.
“I obviously don’t support the message,” said Baker, who signed a MA law guaranteeing transgender bathroom rights last July. Baker was reluctant to take a position and dodged this issue for months. After much criticism, Baker said he would not veto such a law if it came to his desk, breaking stride with fellow Republicans.
Dozens of students at Harvard University gathered in demonstrations following the Trump Administration’s maneuver. The Harvard Crimson reported that members from the university’s Harvard Islamic Society and the Black Students Association joined in the protests, calling on Harvard to make further advancements in their accommodations for trans students.
Massasoit Community College has elected to take a more understated approach in its response to the President’s moves. It seems the college will simply follow existing state laws.
In an e-mail from Massasoit’s General Counsel, forwarded by Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Barbara McCarthy, the College cites several existing laws that ensure the Trump’s measures do not impact MCC students.
“The passage last year of the expanded Public Accommodation Law, M.G.L. Chapter 272, §§ 92A, 98 and 98A, provides protections for transgender individuals to use bathrooms and other facilities in public places based on their sincerely-held gender identity,” the statement read.
“The revocation of the federal guidance does not effect Massachusetts law or our system’s existing policies.”
Governor Baker seems to be in line with this position. After signing the MA law, he says that MA students are not going to be effected by the new administration’s policies on this issue.
“I do believe that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Baker said, “kids are going to be protected and kids are going to be able to feel safe and secure in the communities they live in and the schools the go to.”
Though Massasoit students and those across the state can find reassurance in the current laws and protections, it is not a settled matter.
Groups including Keep MA Safe, which advocate for repealing the Massachusetts “bathroom bill,” find the Trump administration’s moves encouraging.
“I think it’s a breath of sanity on this issue,” Andrew Beckwith, the group’s chief legal counsel, told the Globe. Beckwith also said that debate on the controversial issue “has been kind of run away as of late.”
The group’s webpage cites controversial and/or conservatively biased news reports and seemingly unrelated criminal accounts of voyeurism in support of its efforts to repeal the current law. Though the fallacious argument of transgendered “predators” in bathrooms has little supporting evidence and is widely viewed as debunked, their campaign is working to a degree.
Keep MA Safe has successfully earned enough signatures to put a referendum of the public accommodation law on the 2018 ballot.
In a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll during the 2016 election, only 30% of respondents opposed July’s bill, which guaranteed transgender bathroom rights. There aren’t any numbers to indicate there is enough support to pass the referendum. If passed however, the current law would be repealed without any other necessary legislative action, putting those newly guaranteed rights in jeopardy.
Governor Baker has evolved on the issue of transgender bathroom rights, and colleges across the state including Massasoit are making sure that current laws are enforced to protect student’s rights.
With fringe groups feeling invigorated by the Trump administration’s rescindments, those looking to protect what many view as a civil rights issue, are calling for more definitive statements and actions to protect transgender citizens as concern grows.