When Houston, Texas, voters overwhelmingly overturned an anti-discrimination ordinance last week meant to provide protections to 15 different classes of people, including the LGBTQ community and people of color, one trans woman took to Facebook with her response.
Kelly Lauren of Chicago, Illinois, shared the following photo Nov. 4 with the caption:
"Houston, do you REALLY want me in the same restroom as your husband or boyfriend?"
The non-discrimination law, dubbed HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), would have required most Houston-area businesses to allow transgender people access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. This means that transgender men (those transitioning female-to-male) would be able to use men's restrooms, and transgender women (those transitioning from male-to-female) could use female accommodations, preventing absurd scenes like those depicted in Lauren's tongue-in-cheek photo.
Unfortunately, HERO opponents waged a successful campaign to convince residents that sexual assaults would increase if Houston's transgender residents were allowed to use the right restrooms, squashing advocates hopes of aligning the city with other major municipalities.
Increasingly, transgender people are taking selfies in restrooms of their birth-assigned sex to showcase exactly how ridiculous these transphobic representations are. Take a look at the myth-busting tweets below and follow #wejustneedtopee:
The history of "bathroom panic"
This is far from the first time "bathroom panic" has been invoked to kill an anti-discrimination law that would protect transgender people.
Led by misleading advertisements and signs stating, "No Men in Women's Bathrooms," anti-HERO activists were able to convince more than 60 percent of Houston residents to reject the anti-discrimination ordinance by making it about sexual predators and restrooms. Just take a look at this ad, created by Austin-based consultant Jeff Norwood for the campaign, which aired before the vote:
The scare tactics and outright lies that featured prominently into video aren't new, however. They were recycled from prior campaigns against the transgender community that have also been met with success.
Watch this strikingly similar advertisement released in response to a similar human rights ordinance in Gainesville, Florida, in 2008:
The image of an adult male following a young girl into the bathroom features prominently in both, with each ending with a door closing ominously filmed in black and white. Designed to hit viewers at a gut level, Norwood told the Houston Chronicle that his recent ad "correctly portrayed the dangers women and girls would face had the ordinance passed."
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick cited these concerns when voicing his opposition to HERO before last week's vote, stating that the ordinance "was about allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms — defying common sense and common decency.”
The same arguments also came up when I was advocating for safe bathroom access at my college in 2005. (One concerned community member let me know that gender neutral restrooms would be "a beacon to rapists across the country.") This 2011 ad from Massachusetts also tells a similar story:
Notably, the same component is missing from all of these these scare tactics: transgender people. Instead, trans individuals are recast as monsters, with transgender women replaced by male sex offenders in each ad. And sadly, it works, despite the fact that none of these claims have ever been substantiated.
When trans-inclusive bathroom policies are enacted, sexual assaults do not increase. What does increase is the safety of those in the transgender community. A 2013 study found that 70 percent of transgender respondents were "denied entrance, were harassed or assaulted when attempting to use a public restroom of their identifying gender."