By Connie Wardman
Just as some LGBT civil rights issues such as ending homophobia in sports, same-sex marriage and job protection are gaining positive traction these days, a new issue now becomes the rallying cry for those who want to “protect” the public from alleged LGBT “perversion.”
There is now a push to legislate public bathroom usage so that transgender individuals can use only the bathroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their original birth certificate. Now, more than ever, transphobia is raising its ugly head.
This is a national issue with a local impact. And read “local” as “a pottie bill may be coming to your locale soon” because as soon as it passes in one area, it will be used as the legal precedent by other communities wanting to follow suit.
This is an important issue for the entire LGBT community but especially for transgender athletes. Even if you aren’t transgender, please pay attention. There are any number of transgender athletes who compete in their sports of choice not only within their local areas but who also travel to other geographic locales for tournaments and their associated events. The public restrooms they use may be in a locker room at a gym, at a ball field or arena, or at a hotel, bar, restaurant or other public place. While the issue is a national one, its everyday impact will affect happenings in your local area and mine.
This push to legislate bathroom usage has cropped up in several U.S. communities but perhaps nowhere with as much political drive behind it as in Phoenix, the sixth-largest city in the U.S. that up until this past February has offered little protection for gay people. While the bill has been pulled for this year, it’s certainly not “flushed” away – it will come back again next year according to its sponsor, Arizona Republican Representative John Kavanagh.
Here’s how it played out this year. What came first was a vote on an updated discrimination law. In what was called one of the most contentious city council meetings Phoenix has ever had, the discrimination law (which had only included protection based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age and marital status) was finally amended to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
About the same time, Kavanagh had sponsored Arizona Senate Bill (SB) 1045, making it a crime for transgender citizens to use a public bathroom that didn’t correspond to their sex at birth. A transgender individual violating this would have faced a class one misdemeanor that carried with it penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine of $2,500. Kavanagh said his bill was intended to protect innocent children from exposure to “naked men in women’s locker rooms and showers.”
After meeting a wall of resistance from transgender advocacy groups, Kavanagh did a radical rewrite on the bill that eventually became known as the “bathroom bill,” or more creatively termed by news.yahoo.com as “No Loo For You!” The new version removed legal action against transgender citizens using the restroom of their identifying gender. Instead, business owners were absolved from prosecution – those who banned transgender individuals from using their establishment’s public restroom not matching their birth sex would be protected, free from civil or criminal liability for their discrimination.
Referring to the amendment that had just expanded Phoenix’s non-discrimination law, Kavanagh told the NY Daily News that “What I’m doing [with the SB 1045] is pre-empting these cities from prosecuting businesses that say they want separate [facilities]. I’m basically resetting the clock to before Phoenix passed the law.”
It’s bad enough when some elected officials push legislation without realizing the legal and human implications of what they’re proposing, but Kavanagh most assuredly knows what he is doing. According to his member page for the Arizona State Legislature website, with a 20-year career as a police officer for the New York Port Authority and the New Jersey police department, he is now a criminal justice professor at Scottsdale Community College and director of the school’s Administration of Justice Studies and Forensic Science Program. A military veteran, he also has a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Rutgers and a master’s degree in government from St. John’s University in Queens, New York as well as a bachelor’s degree from New York University in liberal arts.
Kavanagh knows exactly what he is doing. He is using legislation to discriminate against transgender citizens based on his inaccurate view of the transgender community. Prejudice is an ugly word. When you break it down it really means making a judgment without necessarily considering all the known facts. In his own words, Kavanagh is protecting innocents from “naked men in women’s locker rooms and showers.” English translation: he’s willfully choosing to discriminate against a class of citizens who already have very little legal protection. If his bill passes next year it will definitely serve as the legal precedent for other governing bodies to do the same.
While it’s certainly possible in his law enforcement career that Kavanagh has come across a few male perverts, it appears that he has mentally labeled them all as being transgender without ever bothering to learn what being a transgender individual is all about.
If you read any of the language of his bill, it assumes that any transgender person who knowingly enters and uses a restroom that does not correspond to his or her birth sex is doing so only for perverted reasons. There is no understanding or acknowledgement on Kavanagh’s part that individuals who are being treated for hormone therapy and other treatments are expected to begin their transgender transition process by living as their preferred gender in public, generally for a year.
Lumping all transgendered citizens into his personal “pervert” category, he apparently believes that the true danger zone is women’s bathrooms as opposed to men’s bathrooms because that is where he believes transgender males-to-females will expose themselves to a child. Although given the recent action of conservative activist Dan Joseph of the right-wing Media Research Center who last month posted a video to YouTube, entitled “The Transgender Bathroom-Locker Room Question,” maybe Kavanagh’s response shouldn’t be so surprising. Dan Joseph pic here
In the video he himself filmed with students at a Virginia university campus, Joseph asked if they would be ready to share bathrooms and changing rooms with transgender individuals. Clearly trying to elicit negative responses from them, he said, “You mean like a guy who just wants to see some naked chicks going ‘Oh, I’m transgendered and I need to go to the girls locker room?’” When a student responded with “exactly,” Joseph followed by saying, “I mean, that’s what I would do.”
Although Joseph has tarred himself and other heterosexual males with the “pervert” brush rather than trangendered citizens as Kavanagh has done, this is simply another illustration of how far people are willing to go to defend their erroneous assumptions-turned-beliefs without ever trying to learn what the true issues are about. It prevents positive action to find a meaningful and equitable resolution for all concerned.
Kavanagh’s obvious prejudice against transgendered individuals is easily revealed when you realize that people who believe with all their hearts and souls that they’ve been born into the wrong body don’t revel in the “wrong” body parts that they were assigned at birth. Many with the financial means have sexual reassignment surgery so their physical bodies can finally match who they truly are emotionally. But by using this rallying cry of protecting children from perverts exposing themselves, Kavanagh and others like him, those who are already prejudiced by fear of what they don’t know and/or understand, push legislation based on emotion rather than justice.
Molly Lenore, Compete’s 2012 Inspiring Athlete of the Year, is a male-to-female transgender individual. As an athlete, particularly a die-hard football player who travels to out-of-town tournaments regularly, I asked her if she had experienced any difficulties with this. She replied that “I haven’t had to really deal with it myself, but I do remember that before I ‘officially’ transitioned, when I was using the men’s bathroom but looking pretty much like I do today, guys would walk in the bathroom, see me and run out, assuming they were in the wrong bathroom.” Molly Lenore pic here
The good news for Phoenix is that this legislation won’t be in effect this year when the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL) returns to Phoenix in October for the thirteen annual Gay Bowl. But it’s not dead – it’s going to be voted on again next year. And if Phoenix and the rest of the state of Arizona decide to discriminate against transgender individuals, they should start mentally deducting the money from its tourism coffers that events like the Gay Bowl bring to the area.
City and state leadership should have learned that lesson on prejudice from a two-decade struggle due to the state of Arizona’s refusal to acknowledge the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Begun in 1986, the first year the holiday was celebrated across the U.S., it finally ended when the state’s voters approved it in 1992. It lost Phoenix untold millions of dollars in cancelled conventions and other large events, the tipping point being the NFL’s decision to relocate the 1993 Super Bowl from planned Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to Pasadena, California.
I asked Molly if is she sees a way to resolve this emotional issue for the good of all involved. Without hysterical rhetoric fueling the question, the simple solution according to Molly is to have Kavanagh “put on a dress for a week and use the public restroom that corresponds to the gender listed on his birth certificate. I think he might have a slightly different outlook … assuming he could handle the verbal and possible physical abuse.” I couldn’t agree more! What about you?