On Monday, Houston voted to take away basic human rights.
By a wide margin, voters repealed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a measure that granted nondiscrimination protections based on race, religion, disability, military status, and other categories — including sexual orientation and gender identity.
While we can’t account for exactly what happened, especially when celebrities, politicians, and President Obama himself endorsed HERO, it’s a given that anti-trans attack ads by conservatives played a role. Anti-LGBT groups funneled time and money into deceptive ads that portrayed trans people as sexual predators, claiming that HERO would allow “men in women’s bathrooms,” and Houston bought it.
Here’s the thing: Not keeping HERO in place is what will force men into women’s bathrooms. Transgender men, that is.
The conservative attack ads were excessive and hysterical from the beginning; HERO is about so much more than LGBT people, and public accommodations accounted for a small part of the measure. Every myth and claim about the horrors of having trans people in public restrooms has been debunked. But the rhetoric of a “man in a dress” entering a bathroom to prey on girls was successful — even though there are no documented cases of trans people abusing these laws.
What’s interesting, though, is that as a result of HERO’s failure, some trans men might actually be required to use women’s bathrooms.
Imagine a giant, burly, bearded man entering a women’s restroom. He looks like a guy, he lives as a guy, his ID says he’s a guy, he is a guy — but because he was born with a vagina, this restroom is where the government has basically assigned him.
In fact, you don’t even have to imagine it.
In the wake of a proposed anti-trans measure in Canada a while back, some trans people deliberately used the bathrooms that corresponded with the gender they were assigned at birth (as they could be required to do if an anti-trans law passed) and took photos showing how awkward it was.
This is what conservatives want?
Of course, conservatives often ignore the reality of trans men’s existence in these discussions. Zack Ford of ThinkProgress reached out to a number of activists working against HERO asking them what restrooms trans men should use, and nobody could give him a coherent response. But the truth is that rejecting HERO could eventually mandate that trans men use women’s restrooms, which makes way less sense than trans women in women’s rooms. (And don’t even get me started on the huge risk of harassment and assault that trans women will face if forced to use the men’s room. This is a lose-lose situation.)
In the wake of Houston’s decision, a trans woman in Chicago named Kelly Lauren has started up this conversation again. In a photo she posted on Facebook, she’s dressed to the nines, expressing her femininity through and through. She’s also in the men’s room, because that’s what her birth certificate would dictate. She added the caption, “Houston, do you REALLY want me in the same restroom as your husband or boyfriend?”
Here’s what she said to the Huffington Post:
“I am 54 years old and have been performing for about 37 years as a drag entertainer. I am transgender… The picture was taken several months ago but I reposted it when all of this nonsense happened… All I have to say is that I would get in way more trouble in the men’s room than I could ever possibly in the women’s restroom because I am THAT kind of girl! [laughs]“
Trans women are women and deserve the same respect as cis women. Trans men are men and deserve the same respect as cis men. As I’ve written before, sexual harassment will always be illegal, no matter who does it. Allowing people with different bodies to use closed, locked, private stalls next to each other doesn’t change that. And by taking away rights from thousands of citizens based on a campaign rooted in lies and fearmongering, Houston failed stupendously.
Cities and counties all over the country have implemented trans-inclusive public accommodations laws with no problems; we’re counting on them to rise up and help Houston right this wrong. The fight isn’t over.
(Top image via Facebook)