Bathroom Bigotry and the Next Battle for Transgender Rights

If you want to know what some people think about transgender people, consider their comments about the bathroom. Right, the bathroom—bathroom use to be specific. Here are a couple of examples:

all-gender-restroom-braille-sign-se-6065_210From former Arkansas Governor, former Fox News talk show host and soon-to-be-former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “For those who do not think that we are under threat, simply recognize the fact that we are now in city after city watching ordinances that say that your 7-year-old daughter—if she goes into the restroom—cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she’s greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man.”  Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister (at least I think he’s still a minister) also confided the following: “I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’

How about Bill O’Reilly?  What does he have to say on this topic? Not surprisingly, quite a lot, although at times he makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. For example, he has compared allowing transgender children to use the school bathroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity to an adult bringing “12 to 15-year-old boys to Hooters.” Say what? Confused? I don’t blame you. Further investigation into his remarks will only deepen your confusion. Check out this link if you enjoy being confused.

M. Hughes
Transgender activist Michael Hughes started the #INeedToPee campaign to protest bathroom discrimination.

Huckabee’s and O’Reilly’s views on transgender people reflect widespread concern, particularly on the Religious Right, about transgender women creating mayhem by using women’s restrooms and locker rooms. Is there any basis for this concern? Consider the following: For years a number of states and municipalities have had laws on the books that prohibit discrimination against transgender people in the use of public accommodations. There are also laws in a number of states protecting transgender students from discrimination in their use of public accommodations. In addition, a number of school districts throughout the country have instituted non-discrimination policies protecting transgender students and allowing them to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

In all of the years since these laws and policies have been in effect allowing transgender adults and children to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identity there has not been a single confirmed case of a transgender person harassing, abusing or assaulting anybody.

Jonas and Nicole Maines
Nicole Maines (right with brother Jonas) won a suit against her Maine school district for the right to use the girls’ room.

Nevertheless, legislators in Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Texas and Utah have proposed legislation that would prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. The Kentucky senate passed a bill that would nullify a local high school’s transgender nondiscrimination policy, and in California there have been ballot initiatives that would enforce similar bans. Penalties for violating the proposed laws would include fines and imprisonment. A bill that was defeated in Kentucky would have allowed students who think they have identified a transgender student violating the state’s law while at school to collect $2,500 and attorney’s fees for each alleged violation by suing the school for liability.

Coy Mathis trans
The family of 6-year-old Coy Mathis went to the Colorado courts when she was banned from using the girls’ room.

In California, a current ballot initiative would allow bathroom whistleblowers to collect “up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than $4,000, and attorney’s fees”—said damage having resulted from the whistleblower’s privacy having been violated. The violation of privacy would supposedly have resulted from the bathroom whistleblower seeing a person they believed was transgender using what they, the whistleblower, think is the “wrong” bathroom.

What exactly is going on here? Let’s go back to Huckabee’s and O’Reilly’s remarks, because they reflect the beliefs and attitudes that animate members of the anti-transgender bathroom brigade. Huckabee refers to “a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man.”  In O’Reilly’s Hooters segment, he says, “Here comes a guy who thinks he’s a girl, into the locker room. “ Clearly these guys do not believe that transgender people exist. They think that transgender women are men in dresses and that transgender men are women in male drag. And that’s exactly what the anti-trans legislators and other members of the bathroom police force think as well. They do not understand gender identity, which is how human beings experience and communicate gender. To make matters worse, they confuse gender identity with sexuality. They believe that there is something sexually perverse about being transgender. They therefore see transgender people as a threat and engage in fact-free fear mongering of the very worst kind. They particularly demonize transgender women, accusing them of being sexual predators that present a danger to women and children alike.

Michael Hughes 1
The Michael Hughes photo that went viral.

I find myself wondering. Do any of these people know a single transgender person? Have they ever met one? I would not be surprised to find that the overwhelming majority of them have not. That is why it is so important for transgender people to become increasingly visible. It’s clear that attitudes toward same-sex marriage changed dramatically over a relatively short time because so many gay people had come out. If your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend, neighbor or colleague at work is gay, it is difficult to look that person in the eye and say, you don’t have the right to marry the person you love.

It is difficult to objectify and demonize another human being and to deny that human being fundamental rights when you have a personal relationship with them.

I believe that we will see a similar change in attitudes towards transgender people as more and more people get to know transgender people both in the culture and personally. That’s why Caitlyn Jenner, and Orange Is the New Black and Transparent are important. They introduce transgender people to the country. That’s also why ongoing advocacy is essential. People need to be educated about gender identity and what it means to be transgender. Cisgender people who view transgender people as “the other” need to understand that transgender people have a lot more in common with them than they think, sharing many of the same goals and aspirations.

Mara Keisling
Mara Keisling

It’s hard in the midst of fighting for civil rights, in fighting for equality, to measure progress. But it is clear that we are making progress, however slow and painful it may be. I agree with Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. In a piece titled, “Anti-Trans Bills: It Means We’re Winning,” she says that bathroom bills represent a bigoted backlash against the real progress that we are making as reflected in the increasing number of state and municipal laws as well as school policies protecting transgender people against discrimination. We do indeed have allies in legislatures, in school districts and increasingly in the media.

As Mara says, “It is important to be vigilant. . . . let’s fight back, call in our allies, and educate our neighbors. Let’s use these ludicrous [bathroom] bills as an opportunity to tell our stories. And make no mistake . . . We are winning.”

Yes, we are. Despite the ignorance and fear mongering, despite the bigotry and hate, we are winning. If we persevere, if we continue to fight for our rights, we will succeed at achieving equality. If we continue to fight, we will one day surely overcome.

 

 

Lead photo is of transgender activist Brae Carnes.

 

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