The easiest sale on any political issue is to frame it as critical to the safety of children, and that could become key to a civil liberties battle brewing nationwide that pivots on transgender equality.
It’s a discussion that most Americans simply can’t understand because they have never met a transgender individual. They misunderstand the nature of transgender people and can easily fall victim to the conservative argument that the “innocence of children” is at stake.
The inclusion of children’s safety to the debate came to my attention just recently when I saw a post on Facebook by a relative who had shared a graphic by Political Insider saying “men do not belong in the bathroom with girls.”
I realized then that the battle over transgender equality in North Carolina had spread in a particularly ugly way.
Conservatives, still smarting from losing the marriage equality fight, seized on the transgender issue in North Carolina, where state lawmakers recently passed House Bill 2, commonly known as the “bathroom bill.” It bans transgender people from using public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
A transgender woman wearing feminine attire will be forced to use men’s restrooms under the provisions of the law that also prohibits cities and counties in North Carolina from adopting anti-discrimination laws. Transgender men would correspondingly use the women’s restroom.
The North Carolina General Assembly hastily met in a special session after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance protecting transgender people. The state Assembly passed the controversial bathroom bill in one day. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill that night.
McCrory appeared on Meet the Press April 17, saying the legislature had acted quickly to prevent the Charlotte ordinance from going into effect April 1. The governor defended the action, saying transgender issues represent a “new social norm” that will require more discussion before transgender people can be integrated into society.
McCrory said transgender issues rose to the forefront after Houston voters in November overturned an ordinance enhancing LGBT protections. Conservative activists warned men would be using women’s restrooms if voters allowed the ordinance to remain in place. “This is a national debate that has literally come on in the last three months,” the governor said.
It was a tough interview by host Chuck Todd, and McCrory failed miserably in his attempts to justify North Carolina’s stance.
McCrory’s critics view his reasoning as disingenuous, and they note he is battling to remain governor, an office also being sought by Attorney General Roy Cooper. Immediately after he left the news program’s set, McCrory, who has remained largely out of sight in his home state since signing the bill, sent out a contribution request saying he had “defended North Carolina against the coordinated campaign of attacks and selective outrage from out-of-state special interests.”
McCrory blames the Human Rights Campaign and its influence over corporate America for a loss of an estimated $40 million in business opportunities since the passage of the law. Various corporations are either threatening to boycott the state over the new law, or they have already pulled the plug. Some estimate North Carolina could lose billions in revenue in the future.
The controversy is getting a lot of attention all over the country, as a transgender woman from Dallas returning from an HIV seminar recently learned when she got bumped up to first class on a flight home because a passenger objected to sitting next to her.
That amused me because she is one of the least threatening people I’ve met in the world of activism. I doubt that the passenger would have made such a comment without feeling emboldened by the conservative argument.
Now, lawmakers in seven other states are considering legislation similar to that enacted in North Carolina: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
It might be that conservative activists feel the need to escalate their attacks to include scare tactics involving children because of the financial backlash in North Carolina and the support of high profile supporters like actor George Clooney and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
My response to the fears about children is: Who in their right mind would allow a child under the age of 13 to go into a restroom for the general public alone in the first place? Given the sort of ghastly crimes involving assaults and abductions we learn about every day, why would anyone not exercise the greatest vigilance when it comes to children? Attacking people who are merely trying to live their lives as they feel destined instead of exercising due caution to protect children seems absurd.
Transgender women do not identify as men, and society has never viewed them as “real men” — not until it became politically expedient to do so to back up conservative issues. In the privacy of a stall, why would anyone care?
Even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said this week on the Today show he advocates allowing people to use whatever restrooms they choose. He noted there appeared to be little if any concern about such practices until North Carolina politicians made an issue of it.
I’ve encountered a lot of women in men’s rooms over the years because of long lines for women’s rooms. It really didn’t bother me. People generally go into restrooms for only one reason. Any speculation beyond that is a little kinky.
David Webb is a veteran journalist with more than three decades of experience, including a stint as a staff reporter for Dallas Voice. He now lives on Cedar Creek Lake and writes for publications nationwide.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.