The fight surrounding Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance has been ugly since the anti-discrimination policy was proposed—and after a petition drive to put its recall to a public vote, it’s only gotten uglier. It’s involved city attorneys issuing subpoenas for pastors’ sermons. It’s involved accusations of forged signatures on the petition. And, with the vote on the ordinance approaching, it’s involved some fearmongering. As the Houston Chronicle reports:
Opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance released a one-minute radio spot Monday that targets women voters, hitting the airwaves first in what’s expected to be a heated and expensive campaign over the law that will appear on the November ballot.
The ad features a young woman talking about the perceived threat to public safety the ordinance presents. Critics have long seized on the idea that the ordinance, a broad non-discrimination law that includes protections for gay and transgender residents, would allow male sexual predators dressed in drag to enter women’s restrooms.
The idea that scheming, predatory men would disguise themselves as women in order to prey on women and girls in bathrooms has always been one of the rallying cries against HERO. When Fox News commentator and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee used his platform to rally opponents to whip up opposition to the ordinance, he focused much of his argument on the idea that bathrooms would “be unsafe for women and children“:
“If the child…a boy…walks in and says ‘you know what, I really am feeling my girl’s side, he gets to go shower with the girls when he’s 14. I mean, I’m just thinking of all the 14-year-old boys I went to school with, and how many of them would have awakened with that revelation.”
Huckabee’s claims notwithstanding, the ordinance doesn’t put women and girls at additional risk of being harmed by sexual predators, according to experts who’ve studied “bathroom panic” as it relates to transgender people. There are no reported cases of transgender women assaulting anyone in public bathrooms after anti-discrimination ordinances have passed anywhere in the country. And, as stories like the headline-grabbing incident in New York last April make clear, a predator who plans to sexually assault women in public bathrooms doesn’t need to wear a disguise to do it.
That hasn’t stopped opponents from claiming that “this ordinance will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers,” which, if it had actually been proposed, would certainly be a troubling and unpopular policy.
Ultimately, though, the opposition to the bathroom-related part of HERO seems to have less to do with predators in disguise and much more to do with whether opponents of HERO mean “transgender women” when they say “men.” That certainly seems to be the case with someone like Huckabee, whose understanding of gender identity includes the idea that teenage boys can “feel their girl’s side” at shower times only.
Transgender activist Michael C. Hughes raised that exact point when sharing his own bathroom photo. Without HERO, Hughes—who was assigned a female identity at birth—would be required by law to use a ladies’ room when he needs to pee.
— Michael C. Hughes (@_michaelhughes1) March 11, 2015
The issues surrounding trans people and bathrooms are complicated, often in ways that don’t get discussed in radio ads. Whether HERO passes or not remains to be seen—but the issues at the heart of the ordinance rarely fit into sixty seconds on the air.