So it looks like trans folks have avoided yet another horrible anti-trans bathroom bill becoming law, just barely. This kind of thing is getting to be a habit, and the sharp rise in open cultural and political anti-trans hate is simply mindboggling.
Then there was Arizona, where Republicans wanted to pass a law making it a crime, complete with a hefty fine and jail time, for a trans person to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Apparently, that was a bridge too far even for some Arizona Republicans, because the bill was subsequently amended to remove the criminal charges and instead protect business owners from being sued should they choose to prevent a trans person from using a bathroom in their establishment.
That was the beginning, but now it’s an election year and trans people have become the target du jour, replacing same-sex marriage and couples as the primary targets of right-wing extremists this election season. Over 40 bills targeting trans people are currently making their ways through various Republican-controlled legislatures, and over 100 targeting the entire LGBT community.
Worst of all, we must acknowledge where the responsibility lies here. These bills never became law, and in fact the Arizona bill was basically laughed out of existence. Had our community remained vigilant, this might have been a brief dalliance by the GOP rather than the onslaught of anti-trans legislation we’re seeing today, but we didn’t.
A year ago, Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, authored an op-ed in which she argued that these bathroom bills were signs that we were winning and not to worry too much because they were little more than symbolic.
“…these bills are probably going nowhere.” Keisling argued in the piece. “Every year in every state, there are lots of kooky bills that are introduced bloodless and with no chance to become law, with no one really intending to move them. They are just what are called message bills—attention-seeking publicity stunts.”
And then came Houston.
Activists let themselves get blindsided in the effort to protect the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) because they didn’t take these attacks seriously early enough. Instead of directly taking on the bathroom predator myth, opponents of the ordinance were using to effectively argue for repeal, the Human Rights Campaign and others believed that the way to win was by staying positive and appealing to voter’s senses of justice and fair play, as they had with marriage.
Of course, everyone apparently forgot that it was a Supreme Court ruling, not a popular vote, which gave the country nationwide same-sex marriage. To say the strategy didn’t work would be an understatement. Left unchallenged, HERO opponents rode the bathroom predator myth to victory and the ordinance was repealed by a wide margin.
Major LGBT civil rights activists and organizations had believed that now, in the wake of that Supreme Court decision, we could take the role of gracious winners instead of proactive, aggressive, in-your-face advocates.
They were wrong, dead wrong, and working class LGBT Americans and especially trans people, are now paying for those mistakes, with some of us quite possibly paying dearly.
Like an overconfident boxer, we let down our guard prematurely and now we’re getting pounded into the mat as a result.
Enough is enough. This is an election year. Anti-trans bigotry is now official RNC policy. It’s time to start fighting back. It’s time to take on the bathroom myths about trans people directly. It’s time to start publicly shaming those who indulge in such tactics and force politicians to take sides.
This time, we need to do things differently. When the trans community went up against HRC in 2007, it was big, loud, and eventually effective. We sent a message then, loud and clear. It’s time to send a different message now.
The entire LGBT community must unite politically and challenge these attacks on the basic freedoms of trans people. HRC and other major LGBT organizations must stand with working class and poor trans folks and fight this effort like they fought for marriage.
Just imagine: HRC and working class trans people, shoulder to shoulder, united on the front lines, actually working together as equals, each capitalizing on the resources the other brings to the table. It can be done, but it’s going to take effort on both sides to get beyond the legacy of bruised egos and personal animosity to make it happen.
Imagine what kind of message that would send. Just imagine.