10,000 Dresses promoted by Massachusetts Family Institute, plus a call to action on the “Bathroom Bill”

10,000 Dresses promoted by Massachusetts Family Institute, plus a call to action on the “Bathroom Bill”

August 11, 2009

Dana Rudolph’s column in Bay Windows promoting LGBT-friendly books for families — a column which prominently included 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray, reviewed by here — was no doubt appreciated by kids and families across Massachusetts. Less obvious, though, was the fact that the Massachusetts Family Institute also appreciated Rudolph’s article, and included it in their online mailing list with the following warning:

We urge parents to carefully monitor the reading materials being used in their children’s classrooms. Should you find such objectionable books in your child’s classroom or school library, please contact the MFI Office so that we may help you to determine the best course of action.

A blog post by Rudolph about the event can be found here, including the punchline, in which a gay father who follows the MFI’s activities learns about 10,000 Dresses and the other books Rudolph recommends and begins using them in his work with LGBT families throughout the state.

This is a story about the Massachusetts Family Institute that has a happy ending. Not every story about the Massachusetts Family Institute does — or will, without grassroots political action.

For those not familiar with the Massachusetts Family Institute: they’re a group who came to prominence by campaigning to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts and throughout the nation. Their current project is to attempt to block passage of Massachusetts HB 1728, which they refer to humorously as the “bathroom bill” — humorously, because the words “bathroom”, “restroom”, and “toilet” appear nowhere in the text of the bill. What does appear in the summary of the bill is the bill’s intended purpose: “This bill would (a) expand existing hate crimes laws to cover crimes based on gender identity or expression and (b) expand existing anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, real estate, and education based on gender identity or expression.”

In short: if you, say, murder someone because they’re transgendered, you will be guilty of a hate crime under HB 1728. Since the United States is currently the second most dangerous place for transgendered people in the world (after Brazil), this is fairly important legislation.

So why is it called the bathroom bill? According to MFI’s testimony at a hearing on HB 1728:

This radical legislation would remove gender restrictions from public access restrooms, locker rooms and fitness facilities-compromising the safety, privacy and modesty of all citizens. HB 1728 would legally require public schools at all levels to allow boys and girls to choose for themselves which rest room or locker room they wish to use, based on an ill-defined concept of gender expression, with no medical or legal basis.

Two recent incidents of bathroom stalking by men at Boston University and on Cape Cod make the notion of legalizing entry by men into women’s bathrooms not a hypothetical matter but one of legitimate concern. . . Massachusetts has over 10,000 registered sex offenders. While laws exist to prosecute those who commit crimes that take place in bathrooms, HB1728 puts women and children at substantial additional risk of assault because men as a group cannot be questioned beforehand or curtailed from entering women’s rest facilities. . . Nothing would prevent a sexual predator from pretending that he is confused about his sex to gain access to vulnerable women and children in public restrooms, which should be safe spaces for their accommodation and health.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The objection to this bill only makes sense if you buy the premises that MFI is trying to sneak by here: that the “ill-defined concept of gender expression [has] no medical or legal basis”, for one, or that men will start going into the women’s bathroom to rape and murder people because they know that under HB 1728, they can claim to be transgendered, just like that, and the law can’t touch them!

This is insulting and ludicrous, and the only reason this controversy has gotten as far as it has — and one reason America is as dangerous for trans people as it is — is because MFI has been willing to exploit the fact that transgender issues remain a comparatively taboo topic in America, to the point where MFI’s “experts” can toss off an explanation like this:

David L. Stormberg, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice, addressed the true central issue in the whole debate: gender-identity disorder and those suffering with it. “Tragically, this bill if passed will represent our society’s abandonment of those persons who suffer with a gender identity disorder,” Dr. Stormberg said in his written testimony. “This bill suggests that there is no disorder and therefore undercuts any hope for healing that someone with this trouble might have.”

The Massachusetts Judiciary Committee has yet to vote on HB 1728. MFI hasn’t stopped lobbying against it, and lobbying in favor of their view of transgender identity: a disorder to be treated, and more often than not a convenient excuse for male sexual predators. Let’s not stop lobbying in favor of extending hate crimes protection to everyone, and working toward making this kind of smear campaign against this entire group of people less and less of a viable option for people like the MFI.

For a list of steps to take, see this page at the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

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