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Fear and the Politics of Bathrooms

“Stop being afraid.”

That was the message from the Senators who voted against a bill that would have repealed the Human Right’s Commissions open bathroom mandate yesterday afternoon in Olympia.

The rule, passed in December, requires a business or school to allow access to private areas based on the gender the person is identifying with or expressing at that moment.

The obvious challenge involved with this is that because gender identity and gender expression are completely subjective concepts, the state has made it possible for anyone to access any gender specific area by declaring themselves to be qualified irrespective of their anatomical realities.

Of course, this has made a LOT of people uncomfortable.

Survivors of sexual assault have explained the emotional stress involved with sharing locker room space with anyone, much less someone with a penis.

Mothers explained that they are concerned with who will be in the restroom when their children use them.

High school girls have explained that when they are confronted with the naked male anatomy, they want it to be on their terms not on someone else’s.

Businesses have explained how unworkable it is for a rule to ban “unwelcome questions” when they feel an obligation to intervene if they suspect something inappropriate is happening.

Regardless, the Washington State Senate voted (25-24) against a bill that would have repealed the rule and given the Washington State legislature the chance to debate the issue it in a far more open process than the Human Rights Commission did.

The debate was remarkable in how predictable it was.

After proponents of the legislation discussed the lack of public involvement in the process and the problematic underlying policy,  opponents of the bill resorted to the only argument they ever make when dealing with anything even tangentially related to LGBT.

“You’re either stupid or simply a bad person.”

Sen. Jamie Pedersen drew a contrast between the “genuine, but subjective fears that some people have about what might happen in their locker rooms” with the “objectively genuine, reasonable fears from our transgender brothers and sisters.”

In other words, those of you concerned about privacy or the safety of your kids aren’t to be taken seriously because your concerns aren’t “objectively reasonable.”

Sen. Pedersen reminded Senators that the debate itself was an injury to the transgender community; “the 8-year old, and 10-year old, and 12 year-old kids of families who came to testify….are, I’m afraid, going to be grieving tonight.”

Sen. Marko Liias cited a poll in which, “Over 60% of Washington transgender people reported being harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation.”

Several mentioned the disproportionately high rates of depression, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and suicide in the transgender community. The implication was that those who believe in locker room privacy had the power to make all the pain go away if only they would open up them up.

Several times, Senators suggested that by repealing the rule people would be forced into a particular bathroom, which is false. It would have simply removed legal liability for reasonable accommodations like making a third option available.

Sen. Kevin Ranker was hysterical.  And not in the funny way.

“We finally have the rules in place in this great state to protect all of our children and all members of our community, and now, in this body, we’re having a debate about whether that’s appropriate.”

He continued, “History is on the side of equality and history is on the side of civil rights. If we turn our backs on these fundamental civil rights, here in Washington State. we turn our back on the core values that make this state great.”

He admonished the Senators who supported the bill for picking and choosing “which children in our schools can be bullied” and finished with, “Ladies and gentlemen, we need to grow up. We need to come into 2016 and we need to recognize that equality matters, that civil rights matter, and that this bill cannot move forward.”

Apparently our Founding Fathers boarded the Mayflower and later sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the proposition that anatomy has nothing to do with gender and that I should be able to go where ever  I want and do whatever I want to do regardless of how that impacts other people.

I had no idea.

Interestingly, once debate closed, the votes in the Senate mirrored their votes on same-sex “marriage” in 2012.

Everyone who voted in favor of redefining marriage also voted to maintain this mandate on businesses that effectively repeals the public’s right to privacy in private spaces.

Things that make you go hmmm….

Remember when it wasn’t going to affect anyone but the loving, committed, same-sex couples who could emerge from the shadows of second class citizenship?

Those were fun times.

Apparently it was about more than just marriage.

Now, the other shoe is dropping…in the bathroom.

No one is excited about the real challenges the transgender community faces.  But blaming those challenges on those who dare to believe that chromosomes have some connection to gender is the height of manipulation.

Because gender dysphoria is such a unique challenge, I have no doubt that most of us can grow in our understanding and compassion for what that is.  If this debate helps that happen, great.

But there is something the public understands that apparently the legislature does not; compassion and common sense are not in conflict.

The choice between respecting the dignity of people with gender dysphoria and the privacy of everyone else is a false one and the impulse to respond to every anecdote about rudeness with a new statewide mandate is killing us.

Yesterday, Senators repeatedly encouraged us to “transcend fear.”

How about we try to transcend our fear of what will happen if people preserve a modicum of their remaining freedoms.

Do we really want the government setting bathroom policies for every business in the state? Do we really want a new statewide mandate every time people report being disrespected?  Do we really want to create a legal right for men to be in a women’s locker room simply by “expressing” as a woman?

The Washington State Senate does.

What do you say?

You can contact your legislators about this vote at the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here.  Stay updated on next steps with this issue by signing up for FPIW updates here.

Follow Joseph Backholm on Twitter @josephbackholm





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