Real Equality and the Houston “Bathroom Bill”

Real Equality and the Houston “Bathroom Bill”

HEROby Teralynn Nordgren

On November 3rd this year, residents of Houston turned down the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), also known as “The Bathroom Bill”, in a landslide vote. The next day, transgender activists began their response. Since then, hundreds of online articles have been written accusing those who opposed the bill of fear-mongering, ignorance, and of course, intolerance and bigotry. Those who oppose any transgender ordinance are made to feel, once again, that they must be either uninformed or heartless. I respectfully disagree with these sentiments. I think the feelings and insecurities of those who don’t want to share public women’s facilities with biological males are just as valid and important as the feelings of those who are biologically male but don’t want to share public facilities with men. The voting process – though disappointing to some – was as fair as it could be.

For background, let’s briefly discuss the arguments on both sides. First, some are saying that the bathroom provision is nowhere in the bill. From what I have read so far, the bill doesn’t say “bathroom” or “restroom” specifically, but Article IV (which is about public accommodations) could be easily interpreted to allow anyone to choose which bathroom they will use, especially since the term “protected characteristic” is defined to include gender identity.

With that in mind, the primary argument against the bill is that many women would feel threatened by a law that allows biological men to use the same public facilities they use. Supporters of the transgender movement rebuttal this argument, saying these women are protected by laws against harassment and assault, and that therefore these women’s feelings of fear or insecurity are invalid.

The proponents of the transgender movement go on to describe why transgender women should be allowed to use women’s facilities. The arguments basically say this: transgender women feel uncomfortable using men’s facilities and they feel stigmatized when required to use some other facility, like the faculty restroom, or a changing curtain within the girls’ locker room.

I don’t doubt that the feelings and concerns on both sides are genuine. I don’t think the concerns on either side come from hate. However, I have a few questions. First, why should the feelings of one group be given so much more clout than the feelings of the other? The same laws that protect women within a bathroom against harassment and assault also protect transgender women, whether they use the women’s, men’s, or faculty restroom. Why do transgender activists get to wave the banner of equality over their cause when they place so much more value and weight on the feelings of trans people than on the feelings of everyone else?

Second, if we are going to base equality on how everyone feels, why are transgender activists leaving so many people out? For example, there are women who are very legitimately uncomfortable with men because they have been sexually assaulted. Even though most men – perhaps especially those who are transgender women – would probably never commit a sexual assault crime, mere exposure to male anatomy would be understandably disturbing to a young girl who has been the victim of sexual assault.

A better solution to this issue – one that considers both sides of the coin – would be to reconstruct public accommodations so that each stall, changing room, or shower would be private. The HERO bill would not have required these kind of changes, and it would not have provided a way to fund such changes in city buildings.

I am not against discussing feelings. Feelings are valid and relevant and should be considered. However, one person’s feelings should be held equal to another’s if equality is the goal. To do otherwise is hypocritical.

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