The ‘Bathroom Bill’: A Choice Between Social Justice and Discrimination

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Portland Loo is located on South Alamo Street between Commerce and Market streets.

I was hitchhiking from a college town in Kansas back home to the Philadelphia suburbs with an empty stomach and empty pockets when a driving rain led me to seek shelter in a Greyhound bus station in St. Louis.

It was 1971 and I was 18 years old.

I was in the bus station’s men’s room, digging through my backpack for dry clothes, when a well-dressed man in his late 20s approached me and offered to drive me to his apartment. I’ll never forget his come-on: “I’ve got a cool new stereo and we’ll get high.”

I passed on his, um, kind invitation, and never for a moment felt threatened.

That’s the first and last time I remember such an encounter in a public bathroom. I doubt many readers have a lot of experience fending off come-ons, or worse, sexual predators in a public bathroom, either.

If there’s a real problem with bathrooms, here in Texas or anywhere, it’s probably the high percentage of people who don’t wash their hands after using the facilities. Germs are a greater threat to our everyday well-being than some nonexistent threat posed by transgender people in society. Funny, but true.

Yet Texas stands at a crossroads, one direction leading to greater social justice, the other down a backwards path to discrimination.

Tech Bloc CEO David Heard and State Sen. José Menéndez (D-26) held an important public conversation Friday that framed the looming political fight in the Texas Legislature when lawmakers convene for a 30-day special session on Tuesday.

“I’m not really sure what problem this legislation is attempting to solve,” Heard said in his opening remarks. “It seems to me to be less about public safety and more about discrimination fueled by presumed religious morality.”

Menéndez made it clear that the outcome of such legislation being passed and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott could be economically devastating for San Antonio’s convention and visitor industry.

“We want the public and business leadership to understand the damage this bill can do,” Menéndez said. “This will probably be the last conversation we’re going to have regarding this [bill] before the special session. We have some serious concerns about the bathroom bill. I think it will have an incredibly detrimental effect on our city and state, and I believe San Antonio will be disproportionately impacted.

“The economic impact to this city is greater than any other in this state.”

Many readers probably feel that what lawmakers do or do not do in Austin is beyond the reach of individual voters who lack the influence that special interest money buys in the state capitol. Rivard Report editors believe otherwise. We know lawmakers care about public opinion. That is why we published a guide Saturday to help readers contact their elected officials ahead of the legislative debate.

Give it a try. It only takes a minute to send an email, make a call, or take to social media to share articles and express your views.

Those who believe there is a need for legislation forcing transgender people to use bathrooms that match their biological identity at birth aren’t really addressing a gender problem related to bathroom use or the imagined problem of sexual predation. Few, if any, public bathrooms are guarded now, yet rapists don’t seem to prey on women in such circumstances. Bars can be more dangerous than bathrooms in that regard.

Some conservative political leaders, including Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, mistakenly equate transgender individuals and, for that matter, others in the LGBTQIA community with sexual deviancy and criminal behavior. Sexual identity has nothing to do with it.

Gov. Greg Abbott makes his campaign announcement at Sunset Station.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Gov. Greg Abbott makes his campaign announcement at Sunset Station on July 14, 2017.

That’s the great divide socially right now in our state and our country. The courts have recognized landmark social change and codified it in recent years – gay marriage, for example. That kind of evolving legal thinking would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. Many people simply cannot keep pace with that kind of social change and still hold very fundamental views to the contrary.

No minority community has ever won recognition or acceptance without bitter and protracted political and social struggle. What we are experiencing now with legislation that isolates and stigmatizes transgender people is no different, really, than what people of color, or women, or others have endured in a fight for equal rights.

Yes, passage of the so-called “bathroom bill” could impose devastating economic consequences on our city, but I’d argue that defeat of the legislation is even more important to our city for reasons of social justice.

That’s why all of us should contact our elected representatives and hope that another Republican leader in this state, House Speaker Joe Straus, and enough fellow Republicans and Democrats have the numbers to prevail in this important moment.

27 thoughts on “The ‘Bathroom Bill’: A Choice Between Social Justice and Discrimination

  1. As I understand it, the bathroom bill is considered bad because when passed and enforced transgender folks will be forced to use a bathroom that makes them uncomfortable. If citizens now have a right to avoid discomfort, does that right also apply to those made uncomfortable by transgenders use of their chosen bathroom? Who should prevail in this clash or rights? JP

    • But Jerry, if you’re uncomfortable around transgenders that would appear to be your own personal hangup. Are we all now to march to the “Jerry Patterson worldview” in order to honor your individual comfort zone?

      • I’m not uncomfortable. But some are and however few that may be why is their right to be comfortable somehow subordinate to trans rights to be comfortable? That’s the point and you’re last sentence above kind of helps me make my point. You mention my “individual comfort zone” or “hangup” as a negative thing so why don’t you apply the same standard to a trans persons “individual comfort zone”? Why are trans rights superior in the “comfort” criteria?

        • Jerry, many of us are “uncomfortable” around overweight people, people with bad hygiene, loud people who use profanity, people who smoke, people who talk incessantly, people who drink too much – the list of “personal hangups” against our fellow man is endless. It still doesn’t give us the right to mandate how “those people” should live their lives. I may not agree with them – but they have a right to exist as equals on the planet, just as you and I do.

          • Fair points. However, a guy who likes young girls is not going to disguise himself as a smoker or fat person to go into the ladies rest room.

          • Jerry, the basic premise of your argument (that “a guy who likes young girls” would “disguise himself” as a woman to “go into the ladies rest room”) is stupid. This is the flimsiest paper tiger ever constructed.

  2. Nasty, delusional and highly divisive – these “born-again” Republicans are hellbent on legislating their brand of “Christian” (?!) morality. “Freedom to marginalize your fellow, tax paying citizens” appears to be the stated goal. They don’t like transgender, gays, uppity minorities, strong women, Democrats, environmentalist, Muslims (well – any religion not clearly fundamentalist protestant), anyone who fought for the Union during the Civil War, etc., etc. You damn well better be in lockstep with their highly personal “design for living” bub, or you’re basically roadkill.

  3. This is a perfect example of the flaw of the social justice warrior. This isn’t an issue of discrimination. It isn’t about equality. If it were, then the fact that all people born make use one bathroom and all people born female use another wouldn’t be questioned. THAT’S EQUALITY! This is an example of people not getting what they want. This is science denial ( being that there is no science that proves being transgendeed is ultimately anything more than a choice or a mental condition) And not choosing to exercise the rights you do have is complete different than being discriminated against. If I choose not to vote, o an not being oppressed by those who do. This whole question is one of had far can we push to get what we want. WANT, Not deserve.

  4. Ridiculous. Use the bathroom that your physical gender dictates. What goes on in peoples’ minds is unfathomable, so why attempt to legislate toward it? You’ll only succeed in ‘offending’ someone else. If your equipment is male, use the men’s room; if it’s female, use the lady’s room…and stop with the amateur psychology.

    • Have you ever met a person who is transgender? Odds are you have; you’ve probably even uses a public restroom with one at some point in your life and didn’t even know it.

      And that’s the point. Sex is different from gender. Sex is chromosomes and body parts. Gender is how you see yourself and how you present yourself to the world. All we can go off of when we are interacting with each other in the world is gender, i.e. what we can see. Are we going to start putting blood testing machines or police officers outside public facilities to determine the biological sex of every person trying to enter? No. So get over your hangups about “guys in dresses” and move on. and let live.

  5. Restroom design is for use of urinary organs based on sex. There are family restrooms to aid in assisting parents who may be alone with children and require space and safety. There are unisex bathrooms to address a need for overflow or when two bathrooms are not available.

    In 2011, I was in a large city with my boyfriend and a friend. An older man had been eyeing me during the evening. He followed me into the three-stall unisex bathroom and waited outside my stall. He blocked me and other women from leaving the restroom while he touched my arm and stroked my hair. We couldn’t do anything about it. It was disgusting. It was the social norm for him to follow me into the restroom, so he had the confidence to do so. I fear that removing the taboo of having men in women’s restrooms will expose more women to this terrifying experience. He only let us go when another man walked in.

    The other night, I was in another large city. The women’s line was long, so women took over the men’s bathroom. This one man wanted to go in and use the urinal, and the woman “standing guard” at the door waved him in. He said no, and that he didn’t want to be in front of everyone. When he said, “it’s the men’s room,” the woman said, “so, no one’s gonna look.” The point is that he should be able to use a men’s room in privacy. This woman violated that. He ended up leaving the bar; how is that fair?

    I don’t care about trans preferences in their choices, as it doesn’t bother me what your do with your body; I care about removing the taboo of a man entering a women’s room. The choices of others will put me and other women in danger. I care about the men who feel exposed. This bill is addressing a tiny percentage of the population that has made a choice for themselves and should be comfortable with consequences of those choices.

    If venues really care, they can build new unisex bathrooms and pay for this extra choice. As a taxpayer, I don’t care if my money is used to build extra facilities for trans people, but I don’t want to walk into a restroom with men.

    • Here is the flip side to your argument. If these laws pass, transgender men (Yes, they exist, and in large numbers) will have to once again use the ladies room. Now your mythical cross-dressing predator would not even need to change clothes – he could march right in and CLAIM to be a transgender man.
      Seriously. Google “transgender man.” Most of them are quite masculine and disappear rather well into society.

  6. As a woman, I hate sitting on a seat that someone else has piddled on. Think it doesn’t happen? I quit going to Starbucks for that reason, and I’ve got the photographs to prove it. Forget ‘Trans’ discrimination, if you’re doing it right, no one would know. Stay in the bathroom that matches your anatomy!

    • Chances are, you were victimized by either a “hoverer” or an overzealous flushing mechanism that splashed back up on the seat.

      • Kerri, a male had used it before me. Starbucks has this useless ‘progressive’ policy so their previously gender-assigned restrooms are now open to all. Frankly, I know businesses that hang ‘broken’ signs on their mens’ restrooms just because men tend to pee on the floor and leave the seat messy. You’ll see more women hovering and dripping just to prevent contact. I’m against unisex for many reasons, cleanliness among them. My vote goes for the third bathroom option so families with children, elderly with caregivers, and Trans folk can have the privacy they deserve–and so can the rest of us. Win-Win.

  7. When did minority rule become the law of the land? If someone doesnt agree then transgenders accuse them of being homophobic or blame religion, etc. We are not gender neutral beings and each one of us has a right to privacy. Bathrooms AND dressing rooms are being held to this standard and quite frankly every man and woman should fight for their privacy rights.

  8. When the issue came up of transgenders using the restroom of their choice, I thought, well, there aren’t many transgenders and women’s restrooms have stalls with doors, so I thought, this won’t be an issue for me. That is, until I experienced having a man want to enter the ladies room I occupied.
    My husband and I stopped at a rest stop in Colorado where there was a men’s room, a ladies room and a unisex restroom. Hubby went his way and I went mine. Midway through my “nature call”, I hear the door open and a man and woman talking. Door stays open. Woman walks in and peers under my door! Next I hear the man ask, is it empty? Woman replies no, it’s occupied.
    Thankfully, the next voice I hear belongs to my husband who politely, yet firmly tells the man that the ladies is occupied by me, his wife. The man decides to enter the unisex restroom, and I hurriedly finish and exit the ladies room.
    I was truly scared being in the restroom- the ladies restroom!- while a man decides whether to enter. He could have used the unisex restroom.
    If it matters, I’m an educated, uppity minority woman of faith who is also conservative and compassionate. Perhaps those who oppose the bill should put their efforts towards persuading city governments, schools, and venues to provide unisex restrooms.

    • I am very sorry that you had such a horrifying experience. However, it has nothing to do with the debate over trans people in restrooms. From what I read in your account, this was a man violating your space. A transgender woman is not a man. Passing this law would not have prevented that MAN from going somewhere that he shouldn’t.

      Trans people are actually more at risk of being a target of harassment in public restroom facilities rather than the perpetrators of such harassment. 24% of trans people reported being harassed while using a restroom. http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/USA-LGBT/010030Y221K/USA-LGBT-SURVEY.jpg

  9. All I know is that our fair city is going to suffer tremendously, especially when it comes to tourism, conventions (of which rumor has it, several have been cancelled), and music events. Many of the restaurants in the Southtown area are already all inclusive when it comes to restrooms. Yes, I’ve heard some moans and groans, but what can you do about it?

    • Quit going to them. I quit going to Starbucks for that reason. ‘Progressive’ businesses that allow the opposite gender to invade your privacy are insensitive to the majority and don’t deserve your business. Being PC is just plain dumb.

      • Telling people how to live their lives solely based on your experience and opinion is dumb. I’m sure the increase in business that Starbucks experienced from more trans people and their supportive allies far outweighs the lost revenue from your boycott so I don’t think they are worried. (And by the way, having worked in the service industry where I had to clean both men’s and women’s restrooms, I can tell you that women are just as uncleanly and untidy as men. You can’t put all mess in public restrooms on men and/or trans people.)

        Political correctness is about respect. I have respect for the lived experiences of people of ever race, gender, class, religion, or orientation. I try to speak and interact with them in a way that lets them live their own lives and pursue their own happiness. What is wrong with that? Why would we want to live in a more restrictive, judgemental world?

    • So we should just throw away our common sense and security of everyone from people that will abuse the whole “just use the restroom based on what gender you feel like being today ” law just so that we don’t go broke?

  10. If you really think about it, this bill is meant to protect others from perverts and sexual predators who are going to abuse this whole “I’m a woman trapped inside a man’s body” and vise versa feeling. If this bill isn’t passed, sexual perverts will one day wake up and say “You know, I’m a man and i’m going to go use the women’s restroom to spy on women”. This guy would know that by law he would have the right to be in a woman’s restroom because his defense would be that he just felt like a woman that day. If you’re transgendered, and you were born a male and you actually got a sex change and actually look like a woman, then ok use the women’s restroom. There isn’t going to be a patrol officer standing next to the door at the restroom asking for your birth certificate, so don’t make a big deal saying this bill is based off of discrimination because it’s not. But when seeing a grown man go into a woman’s restroom, then you would know that there’s a huge red flag. So this bill must be passed! As stated before, it’s meant to protect innocent people from sickos who are going to claim to be transgendered who are clearly not.

    • Did you read the stories of the women in the comments above? Men already follow women into the restroom, touch them inappropriately, treat them like objects. Tragic and unfortunate things happen to children every day. This law will do absolutely nothing to stop these awful occurrences. If someone with a twisted mind is intent on carrying out some unspeakable act in a public restroom, they are going to try regardless of whether this law passes or not. All you accomplish by doing this is forcing trans people to feel uncomfortable in public.

      If you ever get the opportunity to meet a person who is openly transgender, you will quickly learn that it is not something you “wake up and decide” one morning. They struggle with their identity their whole lives. Being transgender is not easy and comparing them to perverts does not help.

      • I wasn’t comparing the transgendered community to perverts, I said that there’s going to be perverts out there who will claim they are transgender when they really aren’t as an excuse to use the restroom that they don’t identify as physically.

        • Ok yes, but you didn’t need to bring that word into the conversation at all. No one is actually going to what you fear may happen. This law has no bearing on the conduct on sexual predators. They will do their twisted thing no matter what. This law WILL. NOT. STOP THEM. They don’t need an “excuse. And this is not to excuse the illegal and terrible actions of predators. I abhor their violations of women and children’s safety and privacy. All this law will do is humiliate trans people in public while doing nothing to improve public safety.

  11. First off, I don’t think this law should be a major focus during the Texas Legislative Session. We are one of the fastest growing states in the country, and we should really be more worried about how to balance our fiscal responsibility with our need to grow services and infrastructure to accommodate our growing population, rather than worry about bathrooms, which is currently not an issue in Texas.

    For this issue, the Texas Legislature should make it easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates. This would allow them to pass a “bathroom bill” that would prevent a person from the opposite sex entering a gender designated bathroom facility, while at the same time allowing transgender people to use the bathroom facility of their choice. Though, I’m not sure, I think transgender individuals might be comforted by the fact that they are “legally” the gender that they feel themselves to be.

    Personally, I will never understand what a transgender individual is experiencing. There must be some kind of serious mental to physical disconnect for someone to feel that they need to identify with their non-biological gender. It really isn’t for me to judge, so I think it should be easier for them to take a legal step into being the person they believe that they are. That being said, there should be some step to take, provided that it isn’t unreasonably difficult.

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