The Trump Administration is pushing for a narrower definition of gender at the federal level. The move comes as Massachusetts voters consider Question 3, a measure put on the ballot by a group looking to rescind protections for transgender people in the state. Mason Dunn is a transgender man who serves as co-chair of the “Yes on 3” campaign. Dunn spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: The same year that President Trump was elected, in 2016, a measure was approved by the Massachusetts legislature banning discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, places like restaurants and malls and restrooms. It had wide support, including from the governor. Is that correct?
Mason Dunn: Yes, wide support, a bipartisan super-majority in the State House, and signed into law by a Republican governor, which is a huge accomplishment for transgender rights.
Howard: Did you have a sense that the fight was over?
Dunn: We sure hoped it was, but we also knew that these anti-transgender activists would do everything they can to remove these protections.
Howard: How are transgender people coping right now with these legal challenges that are going on?
Dunn: It’s so difficult to watch your identity debated on the front page of the newspaper, and to have people coming out and equating your identity with crime. And it's really hard for a lot of transgender people, particularly transgender youth, who don't even have the right to vote.
Howard: Question 3 proponents, who are in favor of doing away with the state's accommodations laws, say that it's just too broad, the way it is on the ballot. They contend that people can go right into the bathrooms or locker rooms of the opposite sex. Do they have a reason to worry?
Dunn: Listen, what was a crime before we passed this law remains a crime today. If anybody goes into any space, including bathrooms and locker rooms, with the intention to cause harm or commit a crime, that crime is still a crime, and people will be held accountable for criminal activity.
Howard: Well, allow me to explain to our listeners, who obviously cannot see you over the radio: you are clearly a man, you have a full beard, a mustache. You walk the walk, you talk the talk. As a woman in a restroom, if you walk in, I would find it a little alarming.
Dunn: Listen, I would find it alarming to find myself in a women's restroom or a women's space as well, because that's not where I belong as a transgender man.
Howard: And flipping it around as a transgender woman walking into a man's restroom — that could be physically a dangerous thing to do.
Dunn: Exactly. Not only is that about comfort, that is about true safety for transgender women, who we already know face disproportionate levels of crime and violence in our communities.
Howard: Who's behind Question 3?
Dunn: Well the folks who brought up these rights up for a referendum vote, a group called the Massachusetts Family Institute, led the coalition which is now a coalition called “Keep Massachusetts Safe” and the “No on 3” campaign. These are the same folks who fought against marriage equality and the same folks who fought against transgender rights in the legislature who are now bringing this to the voters.
Howard: When the people who have brought Question 3 to the ballot talk about safety, that really touches a nerve, especially with, for example, parents and their children in restrooms. What kind of reassurances can you give that this is a non-issue?
Dunn: Well there was a peer-reviewed, academic study that illustrated quite clearly there is no increase to threats to public safety as a result of passing nondiscrimination laws. The law that we are talking about on this referendum has nothing to do with criminal law. It explicitly states that it cannot be used to justify criminal behavior. And so that is a false and misleading lie.
Howard: Well after the legislature agreed to protect transgender rights and public accommodations back in 2016, have there been any incidents of people pretending to be somebody else and walking into, for example, a restroom?
Dunn: I don't know of any incidents where somebody pretends to be and claims gender identity protections to access these spaces. There have been incidents where somebody goes into a space but they don't claim to be transgender, they don't claim protection under this law. They don't even commit these acts claiming this law as some kind of umbrella protection for them to do so.
Howard: And those are just, for example, a man who might just go into a girl's room — a pedophile, essentially?
Dunn: Exactly. I think that being transgender has been conflated with criminality. I am so ready to talk about transgender rights in other spheres beyond public accommodations. But I know that this fight is something that the entire country is watching. There's a lot of motivation for us to win this so that we send a message to the entire country that transgender rights are here, that transgender people are here, and we deserve the same rights and dignity as all people. u.
Howard: That's Mason Dunn, who is transgender and the co-chair of the “Yes on 3” campaign. The organizers of the "no" side, Keep MA Safe, declined to be interviewed, but did pass along a statement: "The No On 3 - Keep MA Safe committee is concerned only about the laws of Massachusetts and the laws that will be enforced in Massachusetts. So, we believe that the Massachusetts Bathroom and Locker room Law needs to be repealed because it prohibits businesses from protecting women and women from protecting themselves from convicted sex offenders in women's bathrooms, showers and locker rooms and fitting rooms. Attempts to have predators removed from these spaces can result in businesses and women being fined up to $50,000 and up to a year in jail, if the assailant decides to file a gender discrimination complaint against her or the business."