Dinner, bathrooms, and a battle for safety

Guest Commentary: To no one's surprise, Charlotte's transgender community attacked by City Council members and the media

The following is a commentary from Mel Hartsell, a queer and trans social worker in Charlotte. Mel recounts their experience and takeaways at this week’s Charlotte City Council meeting. Mel is a Medical Case Manager at Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) and co-coordinator of Prism, a Charlotte-area group for LGBTQ young adults. This commentary was original published at their blog. Learn more at www.melhartsell.org.


On Monday, I had the privilege of attending the Charlotte City Council dinner meeting. Having only attended the traditional public meetings, I was glad to see more of the behind-the-stage workings. Here’s how it goes: At 5 p.m., the council members gather around a table and eat, and people sit in chairs on the side and watch. Then, at 7 p.m., the Council members head to the public meeting.

Oh, to be a part of the process!

So, at 5 p.m. we gathered to hear about I-485. Okay, we didn’t gather for that reason, but there was a presentation that I’m sure was interesting to many people. There are a lot of opinions about increasing commute time by six seconds and people who litter on the highways. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that conversation is very important.

Our side of the room actually gathered to hear about a non-discrimination ordinance that would provide people access to public accommodations regardless of marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

There was some talk about the word “sex,” and I don’t entirely know how to convey that, but the attorney-speaker-guy said that it was a “relic” and doesn’t matter, and he seemed like he was right about most things, so let’s go with that.

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Here’s where it got interesting. People got REALLY REALLY mad about letting transgender people ride in taxis.

Wait. No, that’s not right. Gender identity and expression would be protected in taxis, and that’s cool, but that’s not what freaked people out. Let me check my notes. I know it was something as trivial as that… Like, something that has to do with natural animal functioning.

Oh! Bathrooms! Yes, people are very, very bothered by bathrooms. Some councilmen (I say men because they are the only ones who issued complaints even though the fear is primarily centered around women’s bathrooms) believed that trans women using women’s bathrooms means that predators will be going to the bathrooms to harass their daughters and wives. And I’m just very confused.

  • Wouldn’t predators be in bathrooms regardless? Is it really necessary to give them legal permission? Aren’t predators going to do it whether it’s legal or not? Isn’t that the point of being a predator? Dads, predators have been everywhere since the beginning of time. Men created this system. Google “rape culture.” Your wives and daughters know this. But I’ll bet you they would tell you they are less fearful of the predators in public bathrooms than they are at home alone, walking down the street or in a closed office with a man in an authority position.
  • There are zero — zilch — reports of trans women attacking cisgender (not transgender) women in bathrooms. But I can tell you there are a lot of situations when it happens the other way around (trigger warning on that link).
  • Many binary-identified trans people (those who identify as strictly male or female) dress and look the way that is expected for people of their gender. For instance, trans women often wear makeup and feminine clothing, may take hormone replacement therapy, have feminization surgeries, and more. You can’t even “tell” (ick) that most people are transgender. So, would it make sense for trans women who dress and look the way that is expected for most women, to use the men’s restroom? What about trans men (people who look like men are expected to look) using the women’s bathroom? WHAT ABOUT THAT, THEN? Your first bullet point argument is flipped upside down. You would literally see masculine, manly-men walking into women’s restrooms if people had to choose bathrooms based on their assigned gender at birth.
  • Lastly, many transgender people are using the restrooms of their choice already without problem to other folks. Because they are going in, peeing (or, you know, number two-ing), and getting out as quickly as possible so they don’t get “clocked” (or read as trans) and attacked (see the link in the second bullet). You don’t usually notice them because people are surprisingly(?) private when they are ridding their bodies of waste and aren’t going to announce, “Here’s the genital proof that I’m in the right restroom!” The other bathroom users and the concerned council members wouldn’t like that very much, anyway, I take it. Again, the problem only comes in when people notice a trans person doesn’t quite fit the presented gender expectation of that bathroom, when he or she isn’t completely “passing.”

One Council member brought up that Charlotte isn’t ready for this kind of ordinance, even though Minneapolis passed theirs in 1975. Another suggested we leave it to a community vote, because it’s always a good idea to put civil rights to a popular vote.

So that’s what was discussed at the City Council dinner meeting. What was the topic again? Oh, yeah, whether or not the issue would be brought up and added to the Feb. 23 agenda. You would not believe how confusing this fact was to the elected people in the Council. Our former interim mayor and current Council member from District 1, Patsy Kinsey, spun in her chair in an expression of “w-t-f-is-happening-right-now”* in regards to the questions her fellow council members were asking:

“WAIT! WE ARE VOTING TO TALK ABOUT THIS IN MARCH, RIGHT?! IF I VOTE ‘NO’ WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!” **

“WAIT! DO WE HAVE TO VOTE ON IT AT THAT MEETING?”

“WAIT! WHAT? WHERE AM I?” ***

Thankfully, Mayor Clodfelter had also had it up to here with the nonsense:

“We are only here to vote on whether it goes on the agenda on Feb. 23.”

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“No, you do not have to vote on it then, just like you never have to vote on the issue on the agenda. You can choose to not take action, take some action, or take all of the action if you want to.”

It is confusing to some, but JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT TRANS PEOPLE DOESN’T MEAN ALL THE WORDS IN THE RULES HAVE CHANGED TO CALCULUS EQUATIONS. I’m serious, y’all. Just thinking about transgender folks made these people incapable of understanding the very basics of their jobs. As an audience, we could have definitely ad-libbed our way through that. I vote us for City Council. Feb. 9 Audience for City Council 2015! The signs would obviously have stick figures of all of the awesome Coalition leaders. I mean, what badasses those folks are, huh?

So, they voted, and most agreed to talk about this ordinance on Feb. 23. Some people wanted to push it into March. Thankfully, the mostly-silent majority was ready to move forward. I’m hoping our allies on the City Council are prepared to be vocal about their support for this ordinance. This dinner meeting was not the time for that debate, though. But the ugly showed.

I mean, y’all, if I had to hear Flip Benham and crew grunt “amen” one more time, I might have had to be escorted out for snort-laughing/crying. (It had been a long day and I was hungry and tired.) He has been everywhere since I was 15 and I am so over his shenanigans. He went from my church, to my high school, to protesting every Friday across the street from the mall where I worked, to stalking doctors at clinics I defended. We have an uncomfortable familiarity.

So, I stared at him once, and we made this eye contact that can build cooperative work or shit all over progress. I think it’s the shitting one, because the eye-roll from my side was intense once I broke contact. I don’t think he would budge on this, but if I set the movement back with that, I do apologize. Anyway, that’s beside the point. He will be there on Feb. 23 with his followers, I’m sure, so be prepared with your fabulous speeches.

And then I came home to some nonsense from WSOC-TV, which started with an awful image the station shared to their Facebook page, in which they literally used the word “predators” when talking about bathrooms. I gave them a call, because the comments on that post led to community members commenting and detailing the violence they would commit against transgender people. I’ll let our (all of the Carolina LGBTQs’) fearless journalist, Matt Comer, take it from here at this link. He has been thoroughly covering the media’s bias on this issue. Just read it and do something, if you would. Thanks.

And from qnotes, here is a more comprehensive explanation of goings-on at the dinner meeting and with the ordinance in general.

Please, get involved and stay involved.

Footnotes
*I don’t know her intention, but it fit perfectly in context.
**No quotes in this article are direct but the basic meaning is there.
***Except this one – no one really asked this.

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3 Replies to “Dinner, bathrooms, and a battle for safety”

  1. Thanks Mel for a very well written and engaging piece. Sad that the false fear tactic of restrooms is once again thrown up for public discussion(our enemies have NO shame), that some city “leaders” would resort to using these tactics, that others are clueless and a few think Charlotte is not ready. Not ready for what, 2015?

    Loved your “…grunt “amen”…” line. Top notch, amen to that.

    Thanks again for your article and excellent reporting on the council meeting. Thanks for your public service. Thank you for your activism.

  2. Janice Covington February 11, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Mel I loved it, good job. The Council siting in front of everyone white they eat is funny, I have been there, They should offer us something instead of being so rude. lol Also the Taxi thing, I have called cabs before and when they see me they drive off , 3 times lol over 1 year. Their loss though because I am a very good tipper. This is why I have one cabby who comes and picks me up at the house , takes me to Petra’s 1 mile up the street. I just give him a 20 dollar bill.and then another 20 bucks back home.lol

  3. I am not living in Charlotte; however, I am transgender. I avoid restrooms when I am out because I am scared of being attacked; by other women in the restroom, or of having someone call the police. While NC does not have a law on restroom use, one can always be arrested for causing a public disturbance and that has been used against transgenders in such cases. Is is very important that the council pass this ordinance because it will give some peace to transgenders. Yes, they can still be attacked but at least it will prevent the police from arresting them and hauling them off to jail for doing nothing more than using a restroom.

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