The campaign to repeal a transgender rights bill in Massachusetts is taking a page out of Houston’s playbook.
The “Keep MA Safe” campaign released a 30-second ad on Wednesday warning that a 2016 law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker could lead to women and children being victimized in public restrooms and locker rooms. It depicts a man in a hooded sweatshirt spying on a blonde woman from inside a bathroom stall as she’s changing.
“Any man who says he is a woman can enter a woman’s locker room, dressing room, or bathroom at any time — even convicted sex offenders,” a female narrator warns.
As the woman unbuttons her shirt, the bathroom predator slowly opens the bathroom door like a monster from a horror film. As the unaccompanied, helpless woman realizes what’s happening and gazes directly into the camera, the mysterious figure releases a menacing snarl.
“This bathroom bill puts our privacy and safety at risk,” the narrator adds. “It goes too far.”
Also known as “No on 3,” Keep MA Safe released the TV spot ahead of a November plebiscite on Massachusetts’ Question 3, in which voters will weigh in on whether to keep the 2016 law. Senate Bill 2407 added housing and employment protections on the basis of gender identity to the state’s pre-existing public accommodations codes.
Critics of the law say it allows individuals with “evil intentions” to “prey on the vulnerable.”
“This bill would endanger the privacy and safety of women and children in public bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and other intimate places (such as common showers), opening them to whomever wants to be there at any given time, and also to sexual predators who claim ‘confusion’ about their gender,” Keep MA Safe Chairman Chanel Pruner said in a statement posted to its website.
In seeking to strike down the two-year-old law, the Massachusetts campaign is hewing extremely to the tactics waged by anti-LGBTQ activists in Houston three years ago.
The Campaign for Houston successfully lobbied to overturn the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which was voted down by a 61-to-39 margin in November 2015. Commercials claimed trans-inclusive protections could allow “registered sex offenders” to abuse innocent people in public restrooms simply by “claiming to be a woman that day.”
The rhetoric is virtually identical to that employed by Keep MA Safe.
The only major difference between the advertisements is that the shadowy predator in the Campaign for Houston commercial preys on a young girl wearing a Catholic school uniform, while the victim in the Massachusetts TV spot is an adult woman.
Each segment relies on what is a widely debunked myth to stir up anti-trans sentiment.
A recent study conducted by UCLA’s The Williams Institute showed the passage of local nondiscrimination ordinances in the Bay State had not led to an increase of attacks on women and children in public bathrooms — a crime which remains illegal even with trans-inclusive protections in place.
In contrast, the pro-LGBTQ think tank found that transgender people are frequently victimized while using such facilities: “denied access, verbally harassed, [and] physically assaulted.”
Six in ten trans individuals say they have had negative experiences in public restrooms.
But while fear-mongering proved a potent weapon against Houston’s trans-inclusive laws, polls show the strategy hasn’t been nearly as effective in Massachusetts. A September poll found voters overwhelmingly oppose overturning the nondiscrimination law: Nearly three-fourths of respondents (73 percent) support the trans-inclusive protections.
Keep MA Safe was forced to edit one of its ads earlier this year when it was filmed in a Wegman’s grocery store without the owner’s consent.