Bathroom Battles: Scaremongering Abounds About Transgender Public Restroom Usage
In June, a coalition called No Unequal Rights started running radio ads (featuring "Nadia's Theme" from The Young and the Restless as background music) on Majic 102.1 FM KMJQ claiming that all over Houston, "from Macy's to McDonald's," young girls were being exposed to men in wigs with pubic hair sticking out from under their short skirts.
And an analysis by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a large Christian nonprofit, claimed that the ordinance "places women and girls at risk of voyeurism, assault, and worse." In its report, the organization cited nearly a dozen news stories involving men videotaping or exposing themselves to women and girls under the guise of being transgender and therefore free to do so under nondiscrimination laws.
Ultimately, the bathroom clause was removed from the final draft of HERO, a move applauded by the LGBT community as well because it also took out wording indicating that a business could refuse the use of a restroom if it felt someone's claim to be transgender was disingenuous.
"To my trans sisters/brothers: you're still fully protected in Equal Rights Ordinance. We're simply removing language that singled you out.-A" said the mayor in a tweet.
Still, a great deal of fear continues to dominate the debate as the far right claims danger lurks behind HERO's expansion of protections.
Such fear is a little strange because two of the largest areas of life in Houston, the Houston Independent School District and law enforcement under the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff's Office, have had similar protections for the trans community for years with great success and none of the vitriolic, bitter opposition shown to HERO.
Contrary to the remarks by Pastor Kendall Baker to City Council in May during the hearings, such protections do not appear to have caused the End Times as of yet.
In HISD there's an eight-year-old student we'll call Ada who was born biologically male but identifies as female. Her mother agreed to speak with us.
When Ada was five years old, she came to her mother in tears. "Mom," she said, "I think God made a mistake." Her mother asked what she meant, and Ada, still crying, said, "I don't feel right in this body. I don't think I'm supposed to be a boy."
Ada's been feminine her whole life. Her parents offered her both dolls and cars, but even when she was quite young, Ada always drifted toward princesses and tiaras. Her best friend was a girl, and Ada tried on every pink thing her friend owned.
Dr. Johanna Olson of the Children's Hospital Los Angeles is a leading national expert on transgender youth. In February 2011 she published a study on the subject in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. In it, she noted that cross-gender identification generally presents itself in early childhood, starting with children as young as five. Most children who suffer from gender identity disorder do not grow up to be transgender but become homosexual and bisexual adolescents and adults instead, according to Olson.
However, Olson also notes that adults who do have the identity disorder report having had such feelings as children, feelings that persist into their mature lives. Not every little boy who begins dressing or acting like a little girl will one day fully identify as female, but those who do have done so since they were young.
Ada grew up in regular contact with the LGBT community and knew plenty of same-sex couples and transgender people. Until she came to her mother in tears, though, she really had no concept of what it really meant to transition or to identify with the gender other than the one a person was born with. To her, transgender people weren't a process; they were just friends of her parents -- girls and boys, however they introduced themselves.
"So we sat down and explained the whole thing in terms a little kid could understand," Ada's mother said.
The knowledge of what she was didn't end Ada's problems, even as HISD began making strides in protecting students like her. Afraid to cross-dress at school or otherwise assert her identity for fear of bullying or ridicule, she tried to content herself with dressing as a girl on Halloween.
The appropriateness of beginning the transition process in prepubescent children is controversial, not least because of the lack of adequate data on the subject since so few families with children who have gender identity disorder seek professional treatment, according to Olson. She recommends working with families, friends, teachers and administrators to create a safe environment for children to present in their preferred gender under the close watch of a mental care professional well-versed in the condition.