The bathroom issue, part two

Transmissions

In last month’s column, we examined the mechanism of the bathroom issue. How does this manifest in real life situations? I cite examples, which have occurred, or are occurring, within the previous six months. These incidents are drawn from four different states: Maryland, Massachusetts, Iowa and Maine. The last involves schools and students and how trans kids are discriminated against within the context of bathroom usage. The first two are somewhat larger in scope.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, SB 1722 was sent by the legislature to committee — a euphemism for being “dead in the water.” It suffered this ignoble defeat as a result of a propaganda campaign promulgated by MassResistance which distributed its 125 page diatribe amongst members of the theocratic right railing against SB 1722. The bathroom issue is part of its “Public Accomodations” section. This transphobic organization fears the law will curtail their freedom to discriminate.

“Our public schools, businesses, public accommodations (which may include churches), your employers and insurers, will all be forced to yield to yet-undefined perversions, protected by law,” the MassResistance document reads. “So does a man who dresses as a woman have the right to use the ladies’ room? If Bill H1722 is passed, yes. That’s because if he ‘identifies’ as a woman, he is a woman (according to transgender advocates). Therefore, it’s not a man using the ladies’ room. It’s a woman, even if there’s a male organ. So no one has any grounds for complaint. And if you (or the management of the building in question) do complain (once this bill passes), you’ll be guilty of unlawful ‘treatment’ discrimination.”

The fear this document engenders is palpable.

Montgomery County, Md., is engaged in an ongoing fight to keep legislation it enacted in February from going the same way as happened in Massachusetts. The antagonist in this battle is a group calling itself Citizens for a Responsible Government (CRG). They have gathered 30,000 signatures on a petition to have the measure brought to a public referendum in November. Again, a large part of their argument is based on the propagation of fear.

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Susan Jamison, attorney for CRG, has stated “The truth is that, unless our referendum effort is successful, any transgender could enforce his rights under this law in a court of law(in February) and, relying on the plain reading of the statute, obtain entry into female locker rooms and restrooms with little to stop him or the many who would follow.”

CRG president Ruth Jacobs averred, “The issue affects the privacy of women and children.”
“Our primary objection is the impact this has on every other citizen in Montgomery County,” said Michelle Turner, a spokeswoman for the?group. “This legislation affects or was written for less than 1 percent of the population, with total disrespect for the safety, well-being and rights of everyone else.”

Ike Leggett, a Montgomery County city executive has been quoted as saying, “No longer will women and girls be able to feel completely safe in the most private and personal bathroom and locker facilities of schools, public pools, malls, stores, health clubs, restaurants and other such public places throughout the county.” This really sums up the dread CRG has hoped to instill.

In order to punctuate the point, CRG sent a “man in a dress” into a Gaithersburg, Md., health club locker room. The goal was to incite fear and loathing. The “icky factor.”

This maneuver was ultimately disclosed to be a set up CRG had orchestrated. Nevertheless, it became fuel to feed the fires of fear in the hearts and minds of Maryland residents. The intended targets of this campaign are those individuals who have not given the issue much thought. They are the so-called “fence sitters.” The best way to stigmatize and polarize an electorate is through the gateway of fear: “You, your wives and daughters, face unimaginable danger as a result of transgender mania. Just think…men in dresses…in YOUR bathroom or locker room. How icky is that!,” they cry.

An Orono, Maine, incident is relevant to the extent that it illuminates the language we often find associated with transphobia and the bathroom issue in schools. An Orono grandparent, incensed that a 10-year-old was in the process of transition, confronted the school board and effectively stigmatized the child. There was also worry that the child may have been “outed.”

Mike Heath, associated with the Christian Civic League of Maine has weighed in: “…the editorial (from the Bangor, ME, Daily News) praises the school for protecting the privacy of the confused boy, and the parents. What about the privacy of every other little girl in that elementary school during an act that is one of the most private in which we all engage, namely, going to the bathroom?”

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In Ottumwa, Iowa, “Citizens who spoke against [a local ordinance providing for gender identity protection] said the ordinance would enable a man to put on a dress, enter a women’s restroom and molest or kidnap a female youngster.” Again, we see the same appeal to unwarranted fear in the name, allegedly, of safety for women and children.

I will reiterate what I wrote last month: there is no evidence to suggest that there is anything to fear in this regard. Numerous universities across the country have gender-blind housing and gender-neutral bathrooms with no incidence of violence.

By July 2007, as reported in a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study, 13 states and almost 100 jurisdictions throughout the U.S. had enacted gender identity inclusive anti-discrimination legislation. Most of those jurisdictions included “public accommodations,” the bailiwick which would designate bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms as gender identity accepting. Again, neither violence nor undignified behavior has been reported.

Fear-based straw men like the “icky factor” and theocratic dogma are the raison d’etre of organizations such as MassResistance, Citizens for a Responsible Government and the Christian Civic League of Maine insinuate.

They are, sadly, the same tactics these organizations utilize when they see two women kissing or two men holding hands. And, don’t forget for a minute that these very same organizations have pursued the tack of “gay men are more likely to be sexual predators.”

Sound familiar?

— Comments, criticisms or corrections can be sent to robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.

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