Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dangerous Dicks Invading Jane's Restroom


The Trump administration took its first major anti-LGBTQ policy action by withdrawing Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let the students use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. Civil rights groups have denounced the withdrawal as a politically motivated attack that will endanger transgender children and sow confusion over the federal government's role in enforcing civil rights.

Let me simplify the issue. Conservatives, as part of their campaign against LGBTQ people, are scaring people about bathrooms. Creating a myth to strengthen their base, they say, “If people are allowed to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities, men will disguise themselves as trans women to sneak into women's bathrooms and sexually assault women.”

In no nonsense terms, these Puritanical zealots believe hordes of young, cross-dressing heterosexual perverts brandishing lustful, sinister penises will gain access to public bathrooms to harass and rape the female population – dastardly dicks in dresses will be mass humping unsuspecting girls.

Excuse me, but … damn, son-of-a-bitch, and what the hell?

This has never happened as a result of states' nondiscrimination laws. There is no evidence that nondiscrimination laws – and other policies that also let trans people use the bathroom for their gender identity – lead to sexual assault in bathrooms and locker rooms. In two investigations, Media Matters confirmed with experts and officials in 12 states and 17 school districts (covering 600,000 students) with protections for trans people that they had no increases in sex crimes after they enacted their policies.

(Rachel Percelay. “17 School Districts Debunk Right-Wing Lies About Protections For Transgender Students.” Media Matters. June 03, 2015.)

And, get this, please – even if trans people are allowed to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity, sexual assault remains illegal. Laws to punish perps are already on the books.

History shows conservatives propagate such myths to sustain discrimination of all kinds. They latch onto people's insecurities and create lies that appeal to their emotions. Bathrooms are places where really private things happen, even if they are accessible to the public, and this makes people feel vulnerable. In brief, people often feel afraid because they're exposed. Conservatives prey on these fears.

Gillian Frank, visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, relates how this happened in the struggle for racial equality in the United States.

Franks says, for example, during the World War II era, conservatives began employing the idea that social equality for African-Americans would lead to sexual danger for white women in bathrooms. And it was used to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, which tried to establish legal equality between men and women, because opponents claimed it would lead to the abolition of bathrooms for different genders, potentially putting women in danger.
And, since World War II, public bathrooms have figured centrally in African-American civil rights struggles for racial integration in the workplace and in schools. Integrating these spaces in the Southern United States meant doing away with Jim Crow laws that mandated, among other things, separate public bathrooms for blacks and whites.

American segregationists often interpreted demands for racial equality as black male demands for interracial sexual contact with white women. White women also emphasized that contact with black women in bathrooms would infect them with venereal diseases claiming that racial integration with blacks would cause them to catch syphilis from shared toilet seats and towels in public restrooms.

(Gillian Frank. “The Anti-Trans Bathroom Nightmare Has Its Roots in Racial Segregation.” Slate. November 10, 2015.)
Historian Phoebe Godfrey summarized the racial, gender, and sexual dynamics at play. Conflicts over bathrooms “were rooted in beliefs about the vulnerability of southern womanhood to blackness, which by its mere presence had the power to contaminate, symbolizing a sexual threat regardless of gender.”

And still, conservatives are using fears and bathrooms to discriminate. Now, they are repealing laws that protected LGBTQ people. They are portraying transgender people as pedophiles while, in truth, violence against transgender people in public bathrooms abounds.

In a 2012 study, Jodi L. Herman found that 68 percent of transgender people she surveyed experienced verbal harassment, 18 percent had been denied access, and 9 percent experienced physical assault when trying to use gender-segregated public restrooms.

Herman discovered restroom violence is symptomatic of the broader forms of discrimination transgender people experience with alarming regularity. 

(Jody L. Herman. “Gendered Restrooms and Minority Stress: The Public Regulation of Gender and its Impact on Transgender People’s Lives.” Williams Institute. UCLA School of Law. 2012.)

What is to be learned from all of this toilet trash talk and turmoil? To those who look at the core of the issue, the lesson is that legislation enforcing restroom boundaries is all about prejudice – the partiality of race, gender, and sexual relations. It is not about protecting the delicate flower of feminine virginity. We have sufficient laws in place now to assure heterosexual women are safe… even in public restrooms. Perhaps it is time we assure the same safety for transgenders.

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