Policy in the Toilet

It probably won’t pass, may not even make it to the floor of the legislature, but a bill has arisen that would police bathrooms in Ohio in a similar way that recently signed bills in North Carolina and Mississippi will soon do. It’s still only in the conjectural phase, but state Rep. John Becker of Cincinnati has suggested he might introduce a bill that would require persons throughout the state to use public restrooms—even those located within private businesses—that conform to the sex listed on their birth certificates. In the current issue of the “Becker Report” on his web site, he describes the intent of the legislation this way: “People with male genitalia must use the men’s room. People with female genitalia must use the women’s room.”

Becker’s stated reason for considering the bill is the recent decision by Target to allow transgender persons to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity, and the City of Cleveland’s consideration of a similar policy. He joins a long parade of ill-informed alarmists who have raised the specter of sexual predators using this loophole to prey upon their female victims. He uses an unsettling metaphor to get his point across: “[Target’s] reckless policy serves as an invitation to sexual predators to pose as transgender persons in order to gain easy access to a smorgasbord of women and young girls” (emphasis added).

Image: " Gender Neutral Bathroom Sign Baby Wale Restaurant DC " by  Ted Eytan  is a Creative Commons image, licensed under  CC-BY-SA 2.0

Image: "Gender Neutral Bathroom Sign Baby Wale Restaurant DC" by Ted Eytan is a Creative Commons image, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

A smorgasbord? Really, John?

There are so many things wrong with the “logic” Becker uses to defend his position that it’s hard to know where to begin. Which faulty argument should I take on first? The irresponsible and immoral canard that equates trans persons with sexual predators? His failure to acknowledge that, while there are no known cases of transgender persons committing acts of sexual violence of the kind he imagines, violence against trans women and men is common, and that his legislation would likely put more of them at risk? The redundancy of creating a law to solve a problem—sexual violence against women and minors—for which sufficient laws already exist? Or the way his proposed legislation would do nothing about a much more plausible threat—male sexual predators violating young boys in the men’s room? Nothing in his bill would keep someone like former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, whom the judge at his recent sentencing hearing called a “serial child molester,” from freely entering any men’s room in the state.

It’s all a smokescreen, of course. In these ridiculous “bathroom bills” and discriminatory appeals to “religious liberty” we’re seeing the final desperate flailings of a segment of our society who are watching their long-held cultural dominance come to an ignominious end. It would almost be comical if these flailings didn’t still have the capacity to wound people and cause damage.

One of the more sinister elements proponents of these laws employ is the way they stoke fears regarding the safety of women and girls. The false characterizations of what it means to be transgender and the unfounded equation of trans people with sexual predators would be bad enough, but this tactic makes it even worse. It’s a blatantly paternalistic ploy—the appeals are most often directed at men, and the message, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, is, “What would you do if such-and-such happened to one of your women?”

It’s reminiscent of the appeals to protect “Southern womanhood” from the threat posed by dangerous black men going all the way back to Reconstruction—appeals that helped pave the way for Jim Crow. The same tired arguments got trotted out during the civil rights era to oppose the integration of schools and public facilities. Now the “scary black man” has been replaced by a “scary trans man,” but the target is the same: our womenfolk.

It’s an obviously racist and transphobic argument, but it’s also a sexist one. It perpetuates the stereotype of women as the “weaker sex,” in need of heroic male figures to provide protection and deliverance. That these proposals find their most fervent supporters among “Bible-believing” Christians is sad and shameful, but it’s a trifecta for patriarchy: demean the LGBTQ community, assert male superiority, and reinforce the subordination of women, all in one fell swoop.

As Christians who also hold the Bible in high regard but do not insist on accepting ancient or medieval interpretations of it, we need to stand up to bullies such as Rep. Becker. We need to expose these efforts claiming to defend religious liberty and guard against sexual predators for what they are: laws that would codify discrimination and would further endanger persons who are already among our society’s most vulnerable.

One way to do that is to sign a petition opposing any effort to enact these discriminatory laws in Ohio. Another way is to befriend one or more transgender persons and seek to learn what their experience is like. A third way is to invite these new friends to a welcoming and affirming church, where they will hear, perhaps for the first time in a church setting, that they are created in the image of God and are beautiful in God’s and our sight. Who knows but that some lives will be transformed in the process? Who knows but that ours may be among them?