Bathroom Battles: Scaremongering Abounds About Transgender Public Restroom Usage
Photo by Aaron Reiss Religious and conservative opposition to HERO led to large organized protests. Earlier, similar ordinances in Houston education and law enforcement went almost completely unchallenged.
The gentle, scholarly air that had accompanied the debate in HISD was not to be found at the HERO meetings. The opponents were great in number, and most meetings focused entirely on the specter of the danger presented by expanding the rights of the transgender community. Religious leaders condemned the mayor in apocalyptic language, warning of Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like atrocities should the law go forward. Eastman and Stipeche found the language and attitude appalling in contrast to their own meetings in HISD.
"It's sad to see what people are doing to repeal something that should be so elemental," says Stipeche. "We have laws against sexual predators and criminals. We enforce those codes and laws. HERO is talking about discrimination. Protections against discrimination based on a whole laundry list of things that could be used against people. Religious belief, military service, etc. Yeah, gender identity and expression is in there, too, but the overarching aim is discrimination. It's a much broader discussion."
Eastman added, "I have to say when I was sitting there, and you hear people angry and shouting and chanting, it was alarming. I don't understand the outrage. Essentially, to me it's not doing anything to anyone else to say we're not going to accept discrimination. I'm embarrassed and sad by that."
Both board members are worried that the angry rhetoric surrounding the passage of HERO may spill back on HISD after their testimony regarding the positive effect an expanded nondiscrimination policy has had in the district. Since 2011, Eastman has had exactly one parent in the entire district even question the policy to her. Just one, and that parent accepted Eastman's assertion that HISD's policy was aimed at protecting the maximum number of students.
"I would meet with politicians, and they would tell me, 'Look, I'm not against this, but my constituents don't understand,'" Eastman says. "We have to use the tools we have. Perspective and times change. All these things they're so afraid of aren't actually going to happen."
A deeper look at the cases of transgender sexual predation reported by the Alliance Defending Freedom reveals the level of fearmongering and distortion that surrounds the issue of where transgender people can and cannot go without fear of harassment and discrimination. For instance, the group's report mentions "a high school girls' swim team that was subjected to a man who identifies as a woman sprawling naked in their locker room, exposing his genitals to them," and dutifully links to a legitimate news story that was reported by Todd Starnes of FOX News Radio regarding the incident, which occurred in 2012 at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.
The story was seen as a perfect example of how a ban on discrimination against gender identity would lead to harm, as Washington state added language to that effect to the Washington State Law Against Discrimination in 2006. Yet had anyone bothered to speak to Todd Sprague, the Executive Director of College Relations at Evergreen, as Cristan Williams of The TransAdvocate had done, more facts might have come to light.
The offender, a 45-year-old student of the college, Colleen Francis, had not, as reported, infiltrated the locker room of a young girls' swim team to brazenly brandish her male genitalia at them. Instead, she and a biologically female friend were using the sauna together, an area that was completely closed off and not open to the 17-year-old students who would have had to deliberately go there and peek in to see the two women. Both Francis and her friend were covered with towels as they both entered and left the sauna, and according to Sprague, it was a single occurrence in 2012, not an ongoing display of nudity in the presence of minors.
The lists that ADF presents in its analysis and the testimony in opposition to HERO focus almost exclusively on the fear that men -- or at least penises -- are seeking new avenues to enable rape or assault. In almost no case does anyone seem to bring up the actions of transmen or overly worry about where such folks go to the bathroom.
Lou Weaver, a 45-year-old transman and activist in Houston, has a theory on that.
"I think it's more of an issue in society that women are taught to be fearful," says Weaver. "In the 1960s we said things like 'We can't have black men around white women because they can't be trusted.' In the '80s it was homosexuals because they are baby molesters. Now we're doing the same thing to a new group we don't understand. We play the fear game, and we control people through hate and fear."
When Weaver began transitioning from female to male many years ago, he noticed that his main problem was using women's restrooms while he was still more physically female than male. Almost stereotypically butch and proud of it, Weaver received many sidelong glances, both disgusted and fearful, whenever he would enter the restroom consistent with his birth gender.
But all that disappeared when he began entering the men's room. "I'm a fairly out and visible transperson," says Weaver. "I'm a pretty privileged person. I'm a Caucasian man. No one really gives a shit where I go to the bathroom. No one in the men's room is thinking I'm going to rape them."