(Trigger warnings: Transphobia)
by Rob Harding
You wonder where the hell they find these people sometimes.
Two weeks ago, one of the Tennessee state lawmakers pushing an anti-transgender rights ‘Bathroom Bill’ through their state legislature was exiled from his offices and denied access to several other areas of the legislative building on the grounds that he posed ‘a continuing risk to unsuspecting women who are employed by or interact with the legislature.’ Last year, former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee told the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters that he wished he’d been able to pretend to be transgender in high school in order to shower with the girls. (Additional trigger warning: What.) Oh, the sexual assaults he could have committed if there was a legal loophole to allow it.
And these are the people pushing laws supposedly aimed at protecting American women and children from sexual assault. Americans are rallying behind real sex offenders to try to stop imaginary transgender sex offenders.
Bathroom laws, for those who don’t know, are pieces of (usually state-level) legislation in the United States that seek to ensure that bathrooms, toilets, public locker rooms and similar facilities are only used by people whose biological sex matches the gender on their birth certificate. The idea is to prevent male perverts from entering women’s restrooms and exposing themselves to little girls (with the outrage-titillating possibility of more heinous crimes).
Well, I can think of… several flaws (tactful journalism) in this reasoning, not least the oft-repeated counterargument that ‘No statistical evidence of violence exists to warrant this legislation’ and “this kind of idea that somebody is going to be assaulted in the bathroom by someone, and claim they have the right to be there because they are trans, is imaginary.’
But debunking the arguments here is pointless, because they’ve already been debunked extensively elsewhere. ‘Bathroom Bills’ have died in committee or been vetoed by State Governors in Arizona, Nevada and South Dakota, and have made even less progress in many other states. Unfortunately, they’ve also gained traction in Wisconsin and Tennesee, while North Carolina has gone one step further and actually passed one. The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, overturns previous non-discrimination legislation, prevents local governments from enacting more non-discrimination ordinances and even refuses to let cities raise their minimum wages because, at that point, why not screw with everyone you can reach. It also prevents benefits for workers in cities, changes the definition of biological sex to ‘sex at birth’ and forces all government buildings to maintain multi-occupancy bathrooms for matching biological sex only. On the plus side, municipalities now have to regulate child labour, so at least there’s some sugar on this pill made of horse excrement. It passed 82-26 in the House of Representatives and 32 in favour in the Senate. The state governor Pat McRory claimed the bill ‘did not take away any rights’ and abolished legislation that ‘defied common sense’. (That legislation, by the way, was a non-discrimination ordinance by the city of Charlotte that made it possible for transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex they identify as.) He then cast himself as a ‘defender of ‘basic etiquette’ fighting against political correctness gone mad.’
Pretty shitty all round, right? The bill’s been in effect since March 23rd 2016, and the longer it exists the more likely other states are to begin pushing for this legislation again. 20 of the 52 US states currently have some legislation that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, the others have none. The bathroom debate rhetoric goes on, only becoming uglier as the election approaches (Trump has yet to comment but it’s not like we need to ask, Cruz is as vile on this as he is otherwise.)
There is still hope, however. A chorus of voices from across the spectrum have protested North Carolina’s recent law, and it’s hurting them- specifically in their wallets, their concerts and their incognito web browsers.
Since the bill came into force, The Boss, Paypal, and the porn site Xhamster, have cancelled a concert, withdrawn a 400-job employment opportunity in the state and left frustrated North Carolinians with a chaste black screen, respectively.
Springsteen in particular released a statement showing ‘Solidarity for those freedom fighters.’ He’s not the only one. Google, Apple, American Airlines, Marriott Hotels and Bank of America are among the corporations who have filed their protests against the law. State governments around the country have banned official travel to North Carolina. The state’s Republican-led legislature (because of course it is) has been criticised as passing ‘contradictory’ legislation that violates the constitution. The NBA and NCAA are considering moving games planned in the state.The Federal government has supposedly begun considering whether the legislation disqualifies North Carolina from billions of dollars of federal loans. Many are concerned that this outrage will cut North Carolina off from the rest of the US as businesses stay away for moral (or PR) reasons.
All this sets what you could call a dangerous precedent; state legislatures attempting to pass discriminatory legislation are suddenly at risk of a massive, embarrassing and maybe financially devastating PR backlash. North Carolina itself is already seeing an intensification of the cultural and socioeconomic divides within itself, with grassroots support of the pro-LGBT+ movement blossoming particularly in the more liberal urban areas. The additional vocal protests from business interests and other states are serving as a sharp punishment for discriminatory laws. Who knows, perhaps in the future one of the counter-arguments to such a law will be ‘North Carolina lost ten billion dollars in state taxes alone when they passed Public Facilities Privacy and Security, why should we expose ourselves to the same loss?’
Perhaps this is a sign of the tide turning; dozens of huge names in American capitalism and culture lending their opposition to an issue that would have been ignored just a decade ago. On the other hand, it’s a little depressing that some of the most public challenges to this legislation are corporate interests who seem at least partly motivated by good PR, and many other such bills have come much closer to passing with nowhere near as much scrutiny or public outrage. Bathroom Bills might look like a dying gasp of transphobia from an increasingly marginalised portion of society, but that prejudice is far from gone and the fight against it is, as always, vulnerable to being hijacked by other interests.
(Featured Image: Shutterstock)