Transmissions: Not Safe

BY GWENDOLYN ANN SMITH

As I write this, I am packing and planning my trek to Orlando, Florida for the 2017 LGBT Media Journalists Convening. While I should only need concern myself with how to keep everything down to one rolling bag, I find myself with one more concern. I have a layover at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas, you see. After five and a half hours in the air, I'm sure I'll be ready to stop in a restroom.

On the 15th of March, the Texas senate passed State Bill 6, the Lone Star State's foray into the realm of bathroom bills. SB6 would require people to use restrooms and other facilities that match their "biological sex." They define that as the sex listed on one's birth certificate.

I feel the need to point out here that a birth certificate doesn't actually prove "biological sex," given that is predominately based on the opinion of the doctor attending a birth and not any sort of chromosome test. Further, it is worth noting that not even chromosome tests are definitive, as the notion that "XX" and "XY" are pure identifiers is much murkier than most seem willing to consider.

Also, who carries their birth certificate with them at all times? I know I don't -- but I digress.

The bill is part of a Republican push to force the issue in Texas, thanks to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick making transgender restroom access a "top priority" of this legislative session. SB6 will disallow transgender people without a correct birth certificate from the use of same-gender facilities in public schools and other government buildings. It will also void trans friendly legislation in Austin and, yes, Dallas.

The bill still needs to make it through the Texas house and off Governor Greg Abbott's desk before it will be a law, but I cannot help but feel a fair amount of pessimism given the political climate in Texas and the rest of the country.

Arkansas is also making moves against transgender people, with House Bill 1986 -- essentially the same bill as SB 6 -- making it through the Arkansas House of Representatives on the same day as Texas. Meanwhile, North Carolina remains unable to repeal House Bill 2, in spite of yet another try on the 14th.

Further, the Federal government has rescinded its roles on restrooms for transgender students, while the United States Supreme Court did an about face on the Gavin Grimm case -- which would have left the high court clear up the issue of transgender restroom use -- by sending the case back to a lower court and striking the previous ruling in Grimm's favor.

I should note that these bills are not only about barring us from restrooms, but have a larger agenda. The fact that I need to consider my right to use the correct restroom in a crowded airport means I don't have the same rights as others. The bills are about disenfranchising transgender people, and keeping us from public life. It is no less than an attempt to remove transgender people from society.

Those in support of them will tell you that these bills are designed for "privacy" and "safety," buzzwords with as much truth and clarity as "family" was in the marriage battles of the last decade.

Speaking of "family," the Family Research Council released a document last month, claiming 21 incidents of men violating the privacy or assaulting women in restrooms. They wanted to make a point that allowing people to go into restrooms based on gender identity will allow predators access.

"It is important to note that the concern is not that transgendered individuals are more likely to be sexual predators," said the brief, "but rather that sexual predators could exploit such laws by posing as transgendered in order to gain access to women and girls."

The thing is, while they attempted to frame the narrative as such, these cases did not involve anyone using such a subterfuge to gain bathroom access. It also avoids what I feel is the most important past of the story: allowing transgender people to use the restroom that fits their gender identity or expression does not limit or change laws against sexual assault. There simply aren't cases of this happening, and the notion of people using these laws as cover to harass women -- while appealing to conservatives and others wanting the fight against trans rights -- is a baseless claim.

Now I am assuming that SB 6 will not be on the books in Texas by the time I land, nor do I think I'd face airport security pulling me from the facility to demand my birth certificate. No, it is me who worries about being assaulted in a restroom.

You see why the FRC may want to make their issue about safety and privacy; it is transgender people themselves who are at risk. According to a study form the Williams Institute, some 70% of transgender people have faced assault or harassment in restrooms.

Over the last two years, we've seen violence and murders of transgender people raise in numbers. We've already seen seven confirmed anti-transgender murders in 2017, and several other attacks. The legislative climate -- and the fear tactics of groups like the FRC -- is only fueling this hatred, and emboldening those who feel they will "protect" women.

I want a safe, private restroom as much as anyone -- but I expect that safety for all women, trans and not.

Meanwhile, I think I'll just go on the plane.

Gwen Smith can't believe this is still an issue. You'll find her at http://www.gwensmith.com.
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