Transmissions: Potty Emergency

By Gwendolyn Ann Smith

"No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward."

The above is a short snippet from a much longer, and in many ways more important, speech by the United States Attorney General. The speech itself was to discuss the Department of Justice's lawsuit against North Carolina. Their goal being to stop the anti-transgender House Bill 2 from going into effect. House Bill 2 disallows transgender people from using facilities that match their chosen gender, based on the fallacy that predators will use these laws to evade prosecution.

This was, in fact, only a part of the good news out of the Obama administration in the wake of the fight over House Bill 2. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a set of regulations around transgender health care, barring discrimination, and the Department of Education once again affirmed their protections of transgender students.

Much like House Bill 2 in North Carolina was a reaction to a transgender-inclusive rights bill in Charlotte, many on the right reacted quickly to the work of the attorney general and the rest of the Obama administration on behalf of transgender people.

In Texas, Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told schools to ignore the Department of Education and prepare for a fight over the summer. Kansas, Tennessee, South Carolina and others have likewise rattled their sabers.

These states have nothing on Oklahoma. Hot on the heels of passing an anti-abortion bill that attempted to circumvent Roe v. Wade, Oklahoma lawmakers quickly introduced Senate Bill 1619. The bill includes an "emergency" clause, meaning it will take effect the moment it becomes law.

"It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety," states the bill, "an emergency is hereby declared to exist." It is, in my opinion, unclear exactly what the emergency is here, given that transgender people have likely been using facilities in line with their gender identity in Oklahoma for decades without incident -- or at least any incidents where non-transgender people were negatively impacted.

Rep. John Bennett, R-Oklahoma, said that the federal directive was "biblically wrong," though I'm unable to divine which religious text discusses who a person can or cannot use a lavatory with.

This bill provides a new twist on these so-called "bathroom bills," wedding it to the "religious freedom" acts that have become popular since the right lost the marriage fight.

Rather than telling a student outright that they can or cannot use a facility based on their birth certificate or genitals, SB 1619 takes a different tack, stating, "a student enrolled in the school district or the parent or legal guardian of a student enrolled in the school district may request a religious accommodation." Those accommodations, based on the student's "sincerely held religious beliefs," are to have access to facilities that bar transgender students from using them.

There's another twist to this. The bill also disallows the above accommodations from being a single-use facility.

The irony of this is that transgender people are often shunted off to single use facilities rather than being allowed to integrate with others of their preferred gender. Indeed, suggesting transgender people be only allowed single use facilities is a common response to those who support laws like North Carolina's HB 2.

The bill also, of course, takes its own stab at defining just what they mean by "sex," declaring it to be the "physical condition of being male or female, as identified at birth," presumably by a doctor taking a look at one's genitals shortly after an infant is born.

Oklahoma's lawmakers did not stop there, either, pressing for the impeachment of President Obama for his administration's directive in Senate Concurrent Resolution 43, claiming that it violated the state's sovereignty. They are apparently conveniently forgetting that in taking federal funds for their schools, they became party to a contract that expected the state to abide by the actions of the Department of Education.

Now, make no mistake. Oklahoma's push to see Obama impeached over this is utterly ridiculous. While it is not the first state to attempt to start an impeachment of a president, it is not the state that does so, but Congress -- and even though both houses are very much in Republican control, it's highly unlikely they'd attempt to move on an impeachment at this time -- and not just because they seem completely allergic to work: it's just not politically expedient during an election season.

It would also certainly be pointless, given that President Obama would be well into his post-presidential years before they could even settle such a matter.

So let's look back on SB 1619. It seems equally doomed to failure. The bill's author, Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Oklahoma, seems unsure of how to implement such a scheme. "I would suggest maybe a different time frame from those students that have the religious accommodation," Stanislawski said. "They won't all be in there at the exact same time but they can work something out." Because, I assume, all of us can regulate our bodily processes to work on a specific and set schedule, it seems.

Even if this bill did somehow make it to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin's desk, and she signs it -- which given she rightfully vetoed the previously mentioned anti-abortion bill, isn't entirely certain -- we know one thing for certain: the federal government isn't likely to back down any more than they have with North Carolina. They stand with us.

Gwen Smith thinks Oklahoma has bigger issues than where she pees. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com.
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