Monday, May 12, 2014

The 'Bathroom Bill' Argument is a Loser


MDPetitions.com, the group led by Delegate Neil Parrott that is spearheading the drive to overturn the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) by referendum, needs 18,500 signatures by May 31 and if successful, a total of 55,736 validated signatures by June 30. Assuming those goals are reached, the effort will likely fail by a popular vote.   

Twitter/Jenna Johnson, Washington Post
FAMA amends the state anti-discrimination law to include gender identity that would ban discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.  The opposition cannot make a legitimate case to topple it.
This same group launched the successful drive to petition the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act to referendum in 2012.  Few accurately predicted the outcome, however, because never before had a ballot initiative to legalize same-sex nuptials succeeded when left to the voters to decide.  Despite history on its side, the active support of the Catholic Church, the National Organization for Marriage and other factors, Marylanders rejected the referendum and voted “yes” to marriage equality by a 52-48 percent margin.
I would be absolutely shocked if this statewide referendum effort to maintain discrimination against transgender individuals were to succeed at the ballot box.  One of the main reasons is the referendum proponents’ decision to dub the legislation as “the bathroom bill.” 

While marriage equality opponents presented a combination of arguments based on religion, debunked studies on the negative effects on children of gay or lesbian parents,  opposition to redefining “traditional” marriage, and that somehow same-sex marriage would lead to teaching homosexuality in the schools, MDPetitions.com and their allies are settling on the outrageously false charge that the law would open the door for men wearing dresses to enter a women’s restroom and do nasty things.
The Baltimore Sun derided this strategy as “juvenile in a 3rd grade classroom” and “embarrassing” in an editorial. The Washington Post opined, “This was middle school trash talk disguised as policy analysis.” 

The petitioners played their hand early, and it should be a cakewalk to tear this argument to shreds.
Listening to the testimony by opponents of FAMA during the House and Senate hearings and then again on the House floor as part of the debate would drive any rational person to shriek. These people have no clue as to what it means to be transgender.  They purposely and misleadingly conflate being transgender with being a transvestite; that if a man “feels like being a woman one day,” he will put on a dress and wig and enter a woman’s private space to presumably stare or commit a sexual assault. 

Here’s a newsflash: if a man is inclined to perform a depraved act like that, he can do so without the benefit of FAMA.  Another flash: if anybody accosts, molests or rapes anyone in a restroom or other locale, they are subject to the laws of the jurisdiction that prohibit those acts and will be prosecuted and punished.    
In the 17 other states and D.C. as well as the several jurisdictions in Maryland—Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Montgomery County and Hyattsville—where comprehensive gender identity protections have been enacted, there have been no such reports or problems resulting from the passage of the legislation.  FAMA does not make it legal to commit crimes, so how can the referendum’s supporters expect people to believe these so-called horror stories?

Unfortunately, many will.  As the anti-marriage equality folks did in attempting to scare people, they intend to use children as their pawns because once you bring children into the picture, the emotional landscape shifts.  “Little girls will no longer be safe in a restroom if this bill becomes law,” they say.  That’s what we can expect, but fortunately, that’s all they have, and it should and will be shot down. 
Equality Maryland, the most significant component in the umbrella group Maryland Coalition for TransgenderEquality, will ostensibly counter the petition drive.  To its credit the organization has launched an education campaign designed to discredit the falsehoods put forth by the petitioners. Among the 19 questions listed on their FAQ page  the one that directly addresses the question about men dressing up as women to enter a women’s rest room contains a clear response: 

“This law does not entitle a person whose core identity is male to use the women’s room, or whose core identity is female to use the men’s room.  Even if a man dresses up as woman, if his sincerely held, core identity is male, he cannot use the women’s room.  This Act does not change that.
“Moreover, this law does not change or weaken Maryland’s criminal laws in any way.  If someone goes into a restroom to ogle or expose themselves or harass or assault someone, what they are doing is illegal and they will be prosecuted – regardless of how they are dressed or what their sex is or what their gender identity is.”
The general public’s ignorance of what being transgender means causes many to be susceptible to the bunk spewed by the petitioners.  Plenty still perceive transgender folks as cross-dressers acting out a fetish. 
Nonetheless, a Goucher College poll from March shows that some 71 percent of Marylanders support non-discrimination for transgender people.  But as I have cautioned before, one should never lean on a poll.  Social justice issues tend to skew the numbers favorably towards minority rights.  We also don’t know if the methodology was sound.  And most importantly, the data do not reflect the “bathroom” propaganda yet to be unleashed.

Therefore, it is prudent to fight back ferociously with all the information we can muster.  By playing their ace-in-the-hole now, MDPetitions.com gave FAMA supporters the time to respond to the childish fantasies that comprise the basic rationale for their opposition to the law.

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