You might expect, given America’s history, that we’d already learned it’s a bad sign when we start fighting over who’s allowed to use which bathroom. And yet for the last two or so years, we’ve been inundated with a deluge of “bathroom bills” all over the country, targeting trans and gender non-conforming people.
A Deceptive False Threat
Generally, the way they work is by insisting that a person’s gender can only be determined by the person who filled out their birth certificate. If it says you’re male, then these laws require that you be treated as male — even if you’re really a woman. The effect is not just to force trans people into the wrong bathroom but to make it impossible for them to participate in all manner of public activities.
So what’s going on? Why are we suddenly dealing with so many of these? The Republicans — and they’re almost always Republicans — who push these bills say they’re about protecting privacy and safety. All of the ads and rhetoric around the laws claim that allowing trans people to use bathrooms puts everyone else at risk — especially children.
But that’s not true. We know there’s no risk to inclusive bathrooms, because trans people have been using the bathroom for decades, and evidence shows that crimes are far more likely to be committed in bathrooms by Republican lawmakers than by trans citizens.
Republicans Protecting Themselves at the Public’s Expense
But there is one group in particular that “bathroom bills” do protect: the Republicans pushing them. When you look at the sponsors and authors of those bills, you might notice a funny pattern — last year, the overwhelming majority were introduced by lawmakers running for re-election. And of them, 96% were able to hold onto their seats.
The problem that bathroom bans address has nothing to do with trans people or the safety of citizens. The laws only exist to help Republicans hold onto their jobs.
This might sound a little familiar. Ten years ago, the GOP used the same tactic to attack LGBT families, accusing same-sex couples of being a threat to children. In 2004, they drove voter turnout to re-elect George Bush by putting marriage equality on the ballot in nearly a dozen states.
But they can’t get away with that now, since public opinion has turned against anti-gay extremists. So they’ve just copied that campaign and traded marriage equality for trans accommodation. They’re treating bathrooms the same way they treated marriage — as a political football they can toss around to their advantage.
What’s so galling about this, of course, is that if anyone’s at risk in bathrooms, it’s trans people. A Williams Institute study showed that 70% of trans people have been assaulted or harassed just for trying to use the bathroom.
If only there were leaders brave enough to look out for those vulnerable citizens as readily as they protect their own jobs.