The Danger of Labeling HERO Opponents as Haters

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VotingThe recent defeat of the HERO ordinance that would outlaw anti-LGBT discrimination in the city of Houston, Texas has been characterized as a triumph of hate over reason. That’s true to an extent. No one disputes that hate motivated those who were willing to spend large sums on a campaign against the bill that played on people’s fears of predators in restrooms.

However, labeling the wide majority of voters who opposed the bill as “haters” is not just inaccurate, it’s dangerous.

Given the success in Houston, our community is likely to face this sort of campaign in the future, and if we wring our hands and bemoan that “haters gonna hate”, we’re going to keep taking similar beatings. Our best chance to avoid a repeat is to listen to the concerns of those whose ambivalence or opposition brought down the bill, and address those concerns.

Their concerns are valid.

Yes, you read that right. The concerns about bathroom safety that prevented wholehearted support of the bill, are valid, understandable, and need to be addressed. I’m not talking about the unfounded fear that predators will claim to be transgender and be allowed to get away with sex crimes. That has never happened in any place that trans people have achieved equal rights. 

But take a moment to imagine:

You’re a bar owner struggling to keep your small business going. One day, a male customer goes in to use the ladies’ room. You don’t know him, though you think he might be from a neighboring bar that competes with you. Can you ask him to use the men’s room? Or does that risk a lawsuit? He does this again a few days later, and again a few days after that, and you notice that the number of female patrons decrease. Your bottom line suffers, and you suddenly find yourself operating at a loss.

Given the sort of stunts that guys pull, this scenario is just not that far fetched. Even if it doesn’t happen, the fear leaves business owners feeling vulnerable. There would be considerable uncertainty about what they can and can’t allow.

Or perhaps this:

You’re a woman who has been a victim of sexual assault. The presence of a man makes you uncomfortable. You go into the ladies’ restroom at your place of work and you notice a male customer standing there. You don’t know why he’s there or what he’s waiting for. You report him to your management who don’t want to do anything about it. “He’s not doing anything wrong. We don’t want to be sued.” You’re wondering whether you’ll need to find a new job.

There are no such cases known, but it’s not clear that such a case would even be reported, or to whom. Given the extent of human variation and the remarkable variety of abnormal reasoning, these are not far-fetched enough situations to call someone who has those concerns an alarmist or hatemonger. They are legitimate fears that could lead a logical person to oppose any bill that makes them a potential reality. It is possible to support the right of transgender people to use the restroom safely while at the same time to want a law that does not put business owners in fear of lawsuits when there is a restroom issue with someone who isn’t transgender.

If we are to avoid future fiascoes similar to the HERO defeat, we need to stop labeling these concerns as the ravings of haters. We need to come up with ways to reassure people not just that those nightmare scenarios would be unlikely, but that that they couldn’t happen because the law allows latitude to take reasonable action. To do that, we need a law that leaves people feeling empowered to deal with a situation where a man who isn’t transgender accesses a women’s restroom for questionable purposes.

The most important lesson of the HERO defeat is that we need laws that allow legitimate uses of restrooms while unambiguously supporting those whose job it is to ensure people feel comfortable using public facilities. To be acceptable, such a law must:

  1. Maintain our current single-sex restroom structure that the vast majority of people favor.
  2. Allow transgender people at all stages of transition to use the restroom safely and comfortably.
  3. Not require any proof of gender or standard of appearance.
  4. Protect those who seek to address a legitimate concern about someone using a restroom where they don’t belong.

Is it possible to come up with such a law? Maybe, but only through dialog and willingness to listen to others’ ideas. If opponents can successfully portray us as recklessly pushing a dangerous agenda, and we insist upon portraying them as unreasonable haters, it will be impossible.

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About Author

Suzi Chase writes about transgender issues through both fiction and non-fiction. She has had careers in teaching and software engineering and has raised two children.

21 Comments

  1. Phrases like, “gender confused men” and “men who identify as women” clearly signaled that the anti-HERO sentiment was aimed at omen. The ads blasted these phrases over and over and over.

    I don’t blame individual voters though, as most of them heard, “men in women’s bathrooms” and then were scared from that. Honestly I would be too.

    I think a lot of it is the narrative that we are “men in dresses” and that needs to be addressed then everything else should fall in line.

  2. This is a very dangerous view to be promoting on a trans site, where it can be used to ‘show’ that even trans people admit allowing us to use the right bathrooms allows male sexual predators in.

    I agree don’t blame those who were duped into agreeing in Houston, but the instances you say validate the fear they had, don’t. In fact, if you want male presenting people to be allowed in bathrooms, then a bill that forces people into bathrooms of their birth gender will do this.

    Do we have a large number of people pretending to be trans males using female facilities for this reason? No. You see they could do it with protections or without.

    The situations you suggest have never happened in places with protections in place, and a competing business could use anything to put other customers off, why use this. It’s a ridiculous scenario and scaremongering when the facts simply don’t back it up at all.

    Those fears are not valid and a trans site is the last place I would expect to see anyone suggesting that they are.

    • You’re right, Kira, we don’t see a large number of people pretending to be trans males.

      What we DO see is a large number of people who are nervous that they may be in a situation where they will be accused of discrimination if they have to deal with someone in a restroom where they don’t belong. Men DO wander into women’s rooms, which we all know doesn’t have anything to do with trans people. But we need to listen to the concerns of those who now feel like they won’t be able to deal with that situation when it comes up. Sure, we can ignore their concerns but if we do we will potentially face similar defeats in the future.

      • At no point did I suggest that we ignore their concerns, I am not sure how you got that from what I wrote. What I am suggesting is that those concerns are misguided and not valid and that having a trans site saying that they are valid concerns and then listing hypothetical situations that do not happen as justification is a dangerous thing.

      • From what I’ve seen the issue isn’t with impostors. It’s squarely with US.

        Campaign for Houston squarely focused on US. That is how I see it. It was abundantly clear that the issue was with anyone assigned male at birth in a women’s restroom.

        The example they used over and over was a trans woman, not an impostor.

        • I am from Houston and was involved in the fight on the ground here. I tried to post some info about this before the vote came in November, but there wasn’t a lot of interest outside of Houston. For that matter, there wasn’t a lot of interest inside Houston. I can unequivocally say that pandering in the way that is described in this article would not work. The people that opposed this bill are haters. Spend 10 minutes looking up “Ed Young Second Baptist” or “Lance Berkman” and you will see the depravity of thinking here. Those opposed are not looking for an education or a compromise. We are “an abomination” to them. We DO NOT exist. They do not believe in transgender people. We are all mentally ill people. If you think there is sanity on the other side, think again. These people do not think like you and I. This is the deep south. They are motivated by bigotry and fear.

          • Also, the hate ads CLEARLY targeted transgender women and portrayed them as leering pedophiles. There was no distinction between sex offending men and transgender. They were one in the same.

            For reference, the HERO law did NOT allow a male presenting and indentifying as male to enter a ladies restroom.

            Current law from 1972 already made that illegal and HERO did not change it.

          • “Also, the hate ads CLEARLY targeted transgender women and portrayed them as leering pedophiles. ”

            Don’t tell me they had television advertisements saying this?
            If they did that’s just pure hate.
            It’s all about holding power over people.

            What’s the situation over there if you use the bathroom of your gender in say restaurants or bars or shopping centres?
            Do businesses actually say anything to you?
            If they do maybe someone has to “refuse to give up their seat on the bus for a white person”.

          • Honestly, nothing much has changed for me personally. I have used the women’s rooms in Houston for years without one incident. I continue to use them now. What this does is makes it harder for people who don’t pass well in their target gender. It has raised the consciousness of people to look for transgender people and confront them. I have heard stories of people being “asked” to leave the restrooms. It just makes all transgender people on Houston on high alert that there could be some bigot just waiting to confront you. As far as shopping centers and stores, it’s best to know the policies of the company you are visiting. There are no transgender protections currently but many businesses are friendly.

          • Kelli, I agree with everything you say about the people behind the hateful ad campaign. They are haters and, as you say, they would not be swayed. The column was not talking about them. It was talking about the voters who opposed the measure, not all of whom were haters,

          • Suzi, I can’t say that I speak for everyone who tried to persuade people concerned about restroom safety that their fears were unfounded. I can only say that many of the people I spoke to were deeply entrenched in their fears like a bulldog with a new bone. They were not very open to listening and preferred to take the word of Ed Young and prominent professional athletes that we are all disturbed men. Demographics played a key role in the outcome of the vote. Ironically, many blacks did NOT support the HERO even though gender identity was only one of 15 categories of protected classes. Race was the most important protection and many blacks were willing to give that protection up for fear of transgender bathroom incursions. Quanell X ( a prominent Houston black activist) gave a rousing speech to anti-Hero supporters http://www.fox26houston.com/news/37381502-story claiming that unless you have had full reassignment surgery, you should use your birth gender facility.
            This is a war and the opposition won this battle. In the future we will win but 3 things need to happen. #1 outreach to the black and hispanic community. #2 Young people need to vote (liking on Facebook did not pass the bill!) #3 old people need to die. You would have to know me to know that I do not say #3 with hatred. I am just resigned that no matter what you say to anyone over 60, you will NOT change their mind. Those over 60 came out in droves from the Baptist community and was THE major factor in deciding this vote.

          • #3 made me laugh out loud! Yes, I have often though the same thing, the world will be a better place and will be able to move forward when the old people die off.

            Luckily we don’t have many christian fundamentalists here like it seems you do in the US, sure there are lots of christians but they are pretty laid back except for the odd whacky sect, and are not fundamentalist.
            The most fundamentalist of the mainstream ones would be the salvation army, but they don’t rail against transgender women or even gays for that matter.

            I think something else needs to happen, and that is the courts needs to recognise transgender women, whether pre or post op, as long as they are undergoing or have undergone some sort of treatment such as a hormone programme, to be women.

            And then how can someone who the courts have legally declared a woman be prevented from using womens facilities?

            The courts though usually proceed inch by inch, they don’t usually take a great step, they just go a bit further than the previous judgement, and the next time maybe go a little bit further again.

            There was a case here in Australia where a woman, who hadn’t had full gender surgery, as she had health problems that prevented her from doing so, got declared a woman by the court. The case was over something like she was trying to access some government benefit that she had to be a woman to access, so she went to court and argued she was a woman.

            But the judge sort of said his ruling was confined to this particular case as she couldn’t medically undergo gender surgery because of her health conditions.
            So the inference is if she didn’t have that medical condition preventing her from undergoing surgery, then he wouldn’t have ruled that she was a woman.
            But still, that inches the case law forward a bit more.

            Another thing that will help women all over the world is we have to stop using the terms transgender, transexual, trans.
            These terms objectify us and dehumanise us, and psychologically it is easier for people to commit violence against another person or class of persons if they dehumanise them first.

            Whatever term used should start with the words female or woman.
            Eg. Female of transgender history, which is a term I heard first the other day.
            Or Female/Woman with gender dysphoria, although that implies we have a mental illness.

            See they used to refer to certain people as Spastics, or Spaz for short.
            And school children used to call each other this term as a form of abuse.
            But now they have changed it to people with cerebal palsy, which is the illness they suffer from.
            See the difference? One starts with “people” and establishes right away they are human beings first, and then mentions these people have a medical condition.
            Better than the dehumanising term “Spastic”.

            So in the same vein calling people transgender, (and us calling ourselves that), dehumanises us, and makes it easy for these people to not treat us as humans but rather as “things”.

            So we need to change the terminology, and humanise ourselves.

            My personal position is I didn’t transition, and was never male, I was born female, and while I may have had to have some medical treatment for a physical condtion that meant I had some physical characteristics of the opposite gender, I was born a woman and always was a woman, even though in early life I may have presented as male.
            If you look at it this way it’s more of an intersex condition than a psychological condition.

            I will post some more later, bit tired as I have just come back from hikng, so going to have a snooze for a while.

            Freedom and Equality NOW!!!

  3. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but in both of your examples, a man who presents as male goes into or is found in the ladies bathroom. I don’t see how they would be protected by law in this case. Surely it’s misinformation such as HERO making it legal for men to wander into women’s toilets that’s caused it to be defeated?

    I do agree that you have to address the concerns of people who might not have the full picture or might have some concerns that can be fairly easily put at ease, but I don’t see how your examples could possibly be real world scenarios. Yes, men may try to go into the women’s toilets, but in both examples it would still be illegal for them to do so, wouldn’t it?

    • You’re right, Amy, I don’t think that person would be protected by law. But would a business owner know that? I.e. if I see a man walk into the ladies room of my bar (which does happen when people are drunk enough) what do I need to do to make sure he isn’t trans, since I might be accused of discrimination if he were. Do you see how it gets a bit more complicated?

      • No, if he’s presenting as male then he has no business and no right to be in the women’s bathroom. And the ignorance of the bar owner to laws that are directly relevant to him and his business shouldn’t be used as an argument against trans people being allowed to use the appropriate bathroom. I agree there’s always going to be grey areas, and trans women who don’t pass are always going to have a harder time of using women’s toilets. But what you are implying is that with these laws any man, regardless of presentation, can simply say they are trans and be protected by law if they enter the women’s toilets. I’m not American so I don’t know the ins and outs, but I can’t believe that is the case.

        • Amy, the problem is what do you define as female looking? There are butch looking cis females (who may actually be straight as a needle too) who have been bounced out of women’s restrooms. The problem is that there is really no objective standard. Can’t we just trust people to do the right thing and just prosecute those who actually do harm?

          • No that proves the point that gender policing the loos is not practical. If anything that supports the point of dropping trying to gender police people into the loos of their birth gender, and the fact that this article is supporting the whole Houston scaremongering tactic, without evidence still hasn’t been addressed.

          • As I said I agree that there are grey areas and I haven’t even attempted to define who looks female, but this law was defeated by scaremongering and misinformation which is repeated and given further weight in this article.
            There’s definitely a debate to be had about which bathroom is appropriate, whether communal bathrooms are the answer, all of that, but it needs to be done with a basis in facts and common sense.

  4. People who try to prevent Females with the medical condition Gender Dysphoria [Females], and I use that term instead of objectifying and dehumanising terms like Trans or Transexual, people who try and prevent Females from using the restroom of their birth gender, and it hasn’t happened to me, but I don’t live in the US so maybe it’s different there, are motivated by a desire to un-empower Females so that they are empowered in relation to Females.
    They are not motivated by fear that Females will rape them in the bathrooms.
    Their behaviour is the same as that exhibited by the people in South Africa who instigated apartheid, ie. certain park benches for blacks and certain park benches for whites, or in the US at one time where Afro Americans had to sit at the back of the bus.
    It’s all about holding power over a group of people in order to preserve priveledge.
    It’s all about power, not fear.

    And this must be coloured by the fact that there are bars that have unisex toilets, and the local university campus has unisex showers; males and females have showers in adjoining shower cubicles, rather than separate bathrooms.

    Really commonsense should prevail, and if someone presents as female then they use the bathroom designated for their gender.
    If someone is so early in their transition that they look like a man then they should use the mens.
    I mean if someone presents as a man then why should they have a problem with using the mens, as they wont get sexually harassed or raped as they will be taken for a man.

    I mean the reason Females need to use the bathroom appropriate to their gender is because they are at high risk of rape or sexual harrassment if they use the mens.

    Should there be a law? Well there should be a law that people are allowed to use the bathroom of their correct gender if they identify with that gender and present as that gender.

    And lets face it, anyone who identifies as Female presents as female; I have never come across a male who says he identifies as female.

    Really Females should be allowed by law to use the bathroom of their correct gender, and if required can produce ID stating their gender, or a letter from a medical practitioner stating they are undergoing gender treatment.

    See here in Australia the Govt. has just passed the Australian Govt. Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender.
    What this means is you can change your gender recorded with Govt. Departments if you provide them with a letter from a medical practioner saying you are undergoing treatment for gender issues.
    You don’t have to have had surgery or even be on a hormone program to change your gender on Govt. records, simply counselling will be enough.
    And they will change your gender with all Govt. departments to female.

    So what would happen if you got refused entry to womens restrooms?
    Well you would have ID saying your gender was female, so if they said you are not female, you are transgender or transexual, well maybe the makings of a legal case.

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