Posts Tagged ‘ Alberta ’

MP’s trans predator fearmongering escalates.

On Friday, Sun News commentator Brian Lilley interviewed Rob Anders, the Member of Parliament who has drawn condemnation for conflating transsexual and transgender people with sexual predators in a petition he has been circulating on his website, and to at least one church in his riding. In “Children’s bathroom bill reaches Parliament Hill,” both doubled down on conflating trans people with sexual predators, and suggested that granting human rights inclusion will somehow enable and legally absolve predatory acts.  Anders claims there is “all sorts of examples of this going on.”  Which is news to anybody else.

Lilley introduced the interview by once again calling for the defunding and privatization of CBC, the network which first broke the Anders story, and which Lilley has tried to portray as ludicrous for taking note of the petition.  During this time, though, Lilley has also been taking note of a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) policy that accommodates trans kids.  Like fellow Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy, he’s made that all about washrooms.  While discussing the TDSB policy with Anders, they arrive at this exchange:

LILLEY: We are going and changing all kinds of things that… I agree with you, could put people at risk of being exposed to perverts to fix something that is, what, one percent of one percent of one percent of a subset of a subset?

ANDERS: Yeah.  You know, why would we lower peoples’ natural defenses of a man going into a woman’s bathroom in order to “accommodate” [scare quotes added because at this, Anders appears to grin mockingly or suggestively]  this very very small, you know, part of the population.  In order to expose all sorts of women and girls to this…?

At that point, Rob Anders relates a phone call that told an anecdotal story of a crossdressed peeping tom who allegedly peered over stalls in the Canterra building in downtown Calgary four years ago.  Searching various media online, there appears to be no corroboration that it even occurred, let alone that it happened as related.  The network sensationalistically underscores this story with staged photos that are supposed to be representative of trans people in restrooms, including one featuring a urinal covered in police tape, and another showing someone with a long wig and a dress standing at a urinal.  Or at least I’m assuming they’re staged, because it would be concerning if someone is snapping candids in washrooms.

At an earlier point in this interview, Brian Lilley also points to one of the men accused of chaining and abusing a Nova Scotia teen — the attacker was said to have occasionally dressed in womens’ clothing.

Most Canadians either don’t know someone who is transsexual or transgender, or else aren’t aware that an acquaintance is trans (and given my experience as a community advocate, I suspect it’s more often the latter).  For this reason, Anders and Lilley float these examples as being representative of all trans people, and as justification for excluding those entire characteristic classes from basic human rights protections.

LILLEY: “Then he’s free and clear.”

Enter Bill C-279, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression), which is a human rights bill addressing employment, housing, access to services and discrimination.

The bill says nothing about washrooms, which Lilley briefly acknowledges before calling washrooms a side effect of the bill, and then continuing to focus on them at the expense of all else.  C-279 also wouldn’t change the fact that trans people have already been using washrooms appropriate to their gender identity for decades.  But it’s at this point that Lilley and Anders claim that the bill would somehow essentially absolve the people in their examples of any culpability for their actions.

ANDERS: “Then he’s free and clear, that’s right.”

Readers are invited to find any example in which rape, molestation and other illegal and inappropriate behaviours were suddenly excused because the perpetrator was a member of a class listed in human rights legislation.  As equal human beings, we are all still responsible for behaving ethically and respectfully toward our fellow human beings, and to face the legal consequences if we don’t.

We also don’t exclude entire groups of people from public washrooms (let alone human rights) on the off-chance that one of them might be a sexual predator.

When I wrote about the history of the “Bathroom Bill” meme, one thing I didn’t mention is how opponents of trans rights initiatives tended to conflate trans people with predators, and then when called on it, would habitually backtrack to say it wasn’t trans people they were worried about, but that they thought trans-inclusive legislation could provide cover for actual predators to commit acts of sexual predation.  And then they’d go on talking about “transgenders” with hairy legs and skirts stalking children and doing unmentionable things in washroom stalls, as a reason to block human rights legislation.

But with the way Lilley’s interview is presented, there’s visibly no effort at all to make any kind of distinction.

And all of this, of course, completely overlooks the dangers to safety of going the opposite direction and forcing transsexual women to use a men’s room.  Or whether women would be happy having trans men in theirs.

Which brings us to Brian Lilley’s bottom line:

LILLEY: “Why do we have all these groups mentioned to get special treatment in the Human Rights Act, in the Criminal Code?  I thought we believed in treat all people equally and fairly in this country.  And why don’t we just get rid of all this nonsense and say all people are equal above and beyond [sic] before the law?”

Overlooking the fact that you just referred to equality as “special treatment,” Mr. Lilley, it is most likely because there is ample evidence that there are clearly bigoted attitudes and beliefs about entire groups of people, conflating them with abhorrent actions and behaviours — even to the point of circulating petitions, making comments on the floor of the House of Commons, and reporting them on television as fact — in ways that make discrimination against those groups likely or even inevitable.

Sun Media’s Brian Lilley interviews Rob Anders

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Rob Anders, the transsexual bogeyman, and the weird phenomenon of MPs petitioning their constituents.

Rob Anders is on a mission.  Hot on the heels of having to halfway apologize for alleging that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair drove former NDP leader Jack Layton to his grave, Anders is now sending at least one church (possibly more) a letter asking them to petition MPs to oppose Bill C-279, which would (in its current form) extend human rights protections to transsexual and transgender people.  You’d almost think he needs an easy deflection, and trans people are the punching bag du jour.

It must be important, too.  For a Member of Parliament who has gained a reputation for falling asleep during Question Period in the House of Commons, allegedly napping through presentations about homeless veterans, and about whom fellow MPs have stated that “It’s a regular occurrence… I sit across from him when we meet in Ottawa and I’ve seen his neighbours poke him awake sometimes,” this must be pretty urgent, attention-getting stuff. After all, he’s staying focused on this one.

In his original letter, he raises the alarm:

“That Bill C-279, also known as the “Bathroom Bill”, is a Private Members Bill sponsored by B.C. NDP MP Randall Garrison and its goal is to give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities.

“And that it is the duty of the House of Commons to protect and safeguard our children from any exposure and harm that will come from giving a man access to women’s public washroom facilities.”

Ah, he wants to protect women.  Hence his vote in support of M-312, which hoped to make government an arbiter of what reproductive health decisions women are allowed to make.  How chivalrous.

The Calgary West MP has stirred up controversy before, sending Canadian troops a Christmas message which read, “when in doubt, pull the trigger.”  He also made international news when he called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.  In 2010, 19 members of Anders’ riding association quit citing interference from the Conservative Party, with another 5 of the 32-member board following in the days afterward.

I’ve written before about washroom panic, and the historic use of this non-existent epidemic (considering that we’ve used public restrooms for as long as we’ve existed, and not seen any statistically notable number of instances of predation) to oppose all basic human rights inclusion for trans people, and have to admit that Anders’ comments pale in comparison (probably only because of brevity) to the rant that Niagara West-Glanbrook MP Dean Allison delivered right on the floor of the House of Commons this past April:

I find this potentially legitimized access for men in girls’ bathrooms to be very disconcerting. As sexual predators are statistically almost always men, imagine the trauma that a young girl would face, going into a washroom or a change room at a public pool and finding a man there. It is unconscionable for any legislator, purposefully or just neglectfully, to place her in such a compromising position.

Still, Anders is careful to make his talking points look original, although they are really not that different from Allison’s, the panic letters previously sent from LifeSiteNews, rants by Charles McVety, or the letter sent by MP Maurice Vellacott to his fellow MPs when the predecessor of this bill, Bill C-389, trekked through the previous session of Parliament, forwarding comments from a “constituent” who turned out to be Jim Hughes of the Campaign Life Coalition.  Or the editorial written by MP Blake Richards in the Rocky View Weekly as C-389 proceeded to Third Reading.  That bill passed, but died awaiting ratification by the Senate, when the election was called.

Rise and shine, SunTV

Anders’ comments also come as Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy are reacting negatively to the Toronto District School Board’s introduction of a policy that will allow trans students to use washrooms that are appropriate to their gender identity — even the Toronto Sun implies that trans identity is whim by phrasing it as using “whichever washroom they wish.”  The TDSB ruling is in response to a 2011 ruling by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and addresses accommodating trans kids (something badly needed), but like Anders, Coren and Goldy fixate on potty panic.  Transcribed by the Huffington Post:

“Goldy was quick to make the issue personal. ‘I cannot but help but bring this story back to my 5-year-old god-daughter and the fact that when she goes to the bathroom by herself who knows what kind of creepo is now fully permitted, he has the right now, to be standing in that bathroom and doing God knows what,’ the reporter said.”

“Who knows what” is probably peeing, and trans people value their privacy during that as much as any other Canadian, thank you very much.

Goldy, like Anders, deliberately misgenders female-identified trans people.  We know that Anders isn’t referring to anyone else when he is petitioning about “transgendered [sic] men” because the trans men I know would generally not be wanting to use the womens’ room anyway.  Granted, womens’ restrooms tend to be cleaner, but those beards might raise questions.

I’ve seen that kind of deliberate misgendering a lot, and typically the objective is to portray trans people as being deluded at best or else outright fraudulent.  But when this kind of intentional disrespect comes from politicians and media figures, it especially needs to be challenged.

“I’m petitioning you to petition me…”

Although Anders’ comments are obviously not new, it signals a growing trend when Conservative MPs start actively lobbying their constituents to lobby them for petition signatures.  This is reminiscent of Jason Kenney’s recent letter to congratulate himself on his efforts as a champion of LGBT human rights, and his previous petition to petition his constituents to petition him to thank him for petitioning them to thank him (or something) on his valiant initiative to deny health care to immigrants.  With Anders, Vellacott, Allison et al actively stirring up fears of an imaginary transsexual bogeymonster in order to defeat human rights legislation, it signals a disturbing trend among legislators — in these cases, Conservatives — by attempting to manipulate the public conversation and skew public input in a way that would appear to support their personal agendas.

Which brings me back to a point I’ve made before, and made often:

Human rights protections are necessary exactly because this irrational fear persists.  It’s necessary exactly because trans people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators, or labeled as “sick,” “perverse,” and “freaks.”  It’s necessary exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they argue for our deliberate exclusion from human rights under the pretext that granting them would be “dangerous” or “scary.” It’s necessary exactly because this bias is so entrenched that people think nothing about broadcasting it openly as though fact.  It’s necessary exactly because this “ick factor” response is seen as justification for not allowing an entire group of people to share the same space, to terminate their employment or to evict them.  It’s necessary exactly because it is so pervasive that discrimination becomes not only likely but inevitable — especially if there is no explicit direction in law to the contrary on the matter.

And especially if that irrational meme is so prevalent that it’s being loudly and embarrassingly parroted by legislators.

The sponsor of Bill C-279, Randall Garrison, has responded to Anders’ petition, saying that “what’s most offensive about his petition is that he equates transgendered people with sex offenders and pedophiles.  This petition is obviously based on ignorance, misinformation and fear, but that’s unfortunately what we’ve come to expect from Mr. Anders.”

Rob Anders, however, has been not responding to requests for comment.  Maybe he’s nodding off, after all.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Alberta reinstates funding for Sex Reassignment Surgery

The Alberta Government has announced that it will be reinstating health care funding for sex reassignment surgery (often called gender reassignment surgery, and abbreviated as GRS by the province and its clinicians), effective June 15th.

In the recent provincial election, Premier Alison Redford was returned to power by an electorate that appears to have been hoping her government would track back toward progressive politics.  Albertans have been watching to see if her government would indeed follow through, and in what manner.  An Angus Reid poll placed Ms. Redford as the second most popular Premier currently in power.

The province had cut funding in 2009 as a “cost savings measure” — however, the $700,000 savings (provided for approximately 16 people per year) wasn’t even a sliver of the provincial health budget.  Since then, the Province has been on shaky legal ground with the funding cut, since human rights tribunals have typically recognized the procedure as being medically necessary.  It was for this reason that the Province of Ontario ultimately reinstated funding, and B.C. abandoned an attempt to defund the surgery.  Judicial court rulings (eg.) in Canadian case law also indicated a likelihood that the medical necessity of GRS would be upheld.

The Trans Equality Society of Alberta responded to the announcement with a media release:

We are pleased that the current administration sees value in caring for all Albertan’s needs, enabling them to live happy, fulfilled lives.  The return of this coverage, who’s removal only saved Albertan’s $0.18 each annually, will give hope to those for whom GRS was previously out of reach.  While there are many other issues facing Trans-identified Albertans, this is a huge step in the direction of respect and dignity for the Trans Community by the Alberta Government. Thank you for taking this important first step.

The American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association both stress that sex reassignment surgery is a medical necessity, and a 2008 resolution by the AMA emphasized that insurance companies should cover the procedure.

Most Canadian provinces have some form of coverage for GRS, although some have problematic quirks of process or costs that can create barriers to obtaining the procedure, and some still do not fund sex reassignment procedures for trans men.  In 2008, Nova Scotia’s Liberal Party added working toward GRS funding inclusion to their political platform, although it has not yet been accomplished in that province.

Internationally, several nations have also added coverage to their public health insurance programs over the past couple of years, including Cuba, Brazil, and Chile.  Argentina recently passed the most comprehensive policies on trans enfranchisement, which included GRS funding, new name change guidelines, anti-discrimination inclusion in their human rights code, and legal protections from hate crimes.  A number of Australian provinces are under renewed pressure to provide funding after an incident of attempted self-performed surgery in an act of desperation.  There have been (trigger warning) at least three other major self-mutilation incidents reported in international media in the past year, including one person in China who self-castrated and then jumped to their death because they couldn’t deal with the pain.  Although not all trans people decide that they require surgery, for those who do, it can be an absolute necessity.

Corporations have also been rapidly adding health plan coverage to their benefits programs, including Apple, Chevron, General Mills, Dow Chemical, Chubb, American Airlines, Kellogg, Sprint, Levi Strauss, Eli Lilly, Best Buy, Nordstrom, Volkswagen’s U.S. division, the University of Pennsylvania, Whirlpool, Xerox, Raytheon and Office Depot (note: some of these may not apply in Canada).  According to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), over 200 major U.S. businesses now include trans-inclusive health care coverage featuring surgical transition-related care, including 50% of Fortune 500 companies — an increase of over 1500% in that group since 2002.

Alberta’s 2009 announcement was followed by a mass filing of human rights complaints.  Due to changes in grandfather-through decisions, some of those complaints were negated when funding was given, and others are still in process.  Due to the backlash at the time of the announcement, the province had eventually conceded to provide funding for people already in transition prior to the cut, to a maximum of 20 per year.  A number of others who had not qualified for the “Phase Out” program (usually because of the timing of their first medical appointment after starting transition) had been typically offered GRS funding as part of a settlement during negotiation stages of their human rights complaints, but have not spoken to media due to confidentiality requirements.

Although this victory is huge, some concerns about medical access remain.  It can be difficult or near impossible to find trans-friendly (let alone trans-aware) medical practitioners in several regions of the province. This can make it hard to even find general practitioners willing to treat people for medical issues that are not trans-related.  For transition care, there is one clinic in Edmonton (therapy only, currently with an 18+ month waiting list) — in Calgary, there is also a once-a-month trans health clinic operated by a psychologist and a family doctor who’ve teamed up to try to help, but the need is one that is difficult to fill with a once-a-month model.  The previous Stelmach government had shut out attempts by the trans community to speak about these matters, and advocates are hopeful that this can now change.

On Wednesday, the Federal government voted to allow a human rights bill proposing protections for transsexual and transgender Canadians to committee for review and possible changes, toward a final vote.  The bill had passed in the previous Parliament, but died in the Senate upon the election call.

(Here is a full backgrounder on why GRS is medically necessary.  It is also available as a trifold brochure)

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project Dented Blue Mercedes and Rabble.ca)

What to Expect from a Harper Government (In The Bedrooms of the Nation III)

Previously:

I: A Brief Canadian History of Political Forces

II: The Opponents of Social Progress: Roadmap to the Far Right

As Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party seek a majority mandate, there is no shortage of speculation on either side of the map as to what a non-progressive Conservative majority would look like in Canada.  By some accounts, we’d see a new capitalist utopia of crime fighting and McJob creation.  By others, we’d see a social agenda unleashed which, now completely unbridled, would rewrite Canada into a Christian Nationalist dictatorship.

But we’ve seen already how Harper is completely cognizant of Canada’s inclination for social progress, and having to tightrope in order to maintain the far-right extreme and the centrist support he needs to maintain power.  Stephen Harper is gaming, and he is not going to seek only a 4-year majority.  He is in it for the long haul, and that means tightroping for as long as he can. Continue reading

In The Bedrooms of the Nation I: A Brief Canadian History and Political Forces

Social consciousness was in a state of flux.  Oral contraceptives had been available in the U.S. for several years but were banned in Canada.  Sodomy had been decriminalized in the U.K. in 1967.  Medical professionals and activists called for the legalization of abortion in circumstances where the pregnancy caused immediate danger to the mother.  And George Klippert was convicted of “gross indecency” for having consensual gay sex — and because he was determined to be “incurably homosexual,” he was sentenced to indefinite “preventive” detention (essentially a life sentence, which the Supreme Court of Canada later upheld).

On Dec. 21, 1967, Justice Minister and future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau responded by introducing Omnibus Bill C-150, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada.  It decriminalized homosexuality, made abortion possible, legalized contraception, tweaked gambling and gun laws, and more.  It passed on May 14, 1969, coming into force on the eve of the Stonewall riots in New York City.  When introducing the bill, he famously told CBC,

there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.

42 years later, it keeps trying.

Continue reading

Flushing the “Bathroom Bill” Fear Once and For All

As I write this, the LGBT community is struggling with a situation in Maryland where the provision for “public accommodations” has been removed from a bill that proposes to extend human rights to trans people, due to the ongoing “bathroom bill” panic-generation tactic.  In Canada, Bill C-389 passed despite this same fearmongering, but faces an increasingly precarious situation in the Senate.  In Montana, the state is proposing legislation that aims to erase the protections for all LGBT people that had passed the previous year in the City of Missoula, where the “not my bathroom” rhetoric failed… and where most pretexts of it have now been dropped in the battle against equality.  Elsewhere in North America, potty panic has been used to stir up an emotional “ick” response to any legislation that protects trans people, and even some non-inclusive LGB protections.  And once the emotions have been engaged, logic has to work five times harder to dispel the myths.

But in Maryland — which in 2007 was the birthplace of this wave of “bathroom bill” spinmongering — the tactic needs to be addressed head-on before it forever changes the face of how we accord and apply human rights.  Because the recent removal of “public accommodations” affects far more than washrooms, all because of an irrational fear of the possibility of behaviour that isn’t actually facilitated by trans protections and doesn’t actually happen in real life.

Human Rights In Principle

The whole premise of human rights is that all people should have equal access to employment, housing, medical and social services, and opportunities.  The understanding is that people should be judged on their individual merits or faults, and not on characteristics that other people may have prejudicial associations about.  We specify classes because bigoted people keep trying to make excuses to assert exceptions to the rule.  You shouldn’t have to tell society that it’s wrong to place life barriers for people just because others find their body weight objectionable, for example, but as it becomes increasingly demonstrated that discrimination persists, it becomes apparent that you do.  Without specifying these classes, a false equivalence is asserted in which one’s human rights can be trumped by another’s irrational fear of having to coexist with them.

Because classes are open-ended (i.e. “race” includes white people as much as non-white people), the whole idea that people in codified classes have “special rights” is a myth.  The intent is that a person should not be excluded from participating in society because of assumptions or constructions associated with a trait, but rather their own merits or failures should form the basis of how we decide to interact with them.  The playing field needs to be levelled to that there is equal opportunity in principle (although it doesn’t always happen in practice).

You don’t narrowly define these classes: once you start doing that, you start codifying into law when it becomes legally acceptable to discriminate against a group of people.  That is why when you include a class like “disability,” you don’t make an exception for people with mental illness. There is an example of this in the ironically-named Equality Act, in the UK, where legislation outlines when it is considered perfectly lawful to disenfranchise trans people.

Maryland

The good news is that this has not happened in the current situation in Maryland.  Although public accommodations have been dropped from the bill, there haven’t been any codified exemptions to create legally-sanctioned discrimination.  Consequently, areas not outlined in legislation become a matter for the courts, and the incrementalist perspective expresses hope that if there is no opportunity to introduce a better bill later, then the judicial system will at some point read in these protections on the basis of what is already codified in law.  LGBT Marylanders who have taken the “anything is better than nothing” approach have this to place their hope in, and it’s not substanceless.

However, we know that anytime unabashedly homophobic and transphobic people perceive that they can push LGBT people into the margins, they will almost always attempt to do so.  There is no guarantee that public accommodations will be read in or added later, and in the meantime, there will be people falling through the cracks of an incomplete bill.

There is also a concern that if Marylanders see it as acceptable to drop public accommodations from trans human rights legislation, then future legislators will see it as reasonable to do the same.  In a way, this move surrenders the washrooms to our opponents.

And more.  As Monica Roberts points out, “public accommodations” cuts a far wider swath than simply gendered stalls, showers and urinals:

A place of “public accommodation” is defined as “an establishment either affecting interstate commerce or supported by state action, and falling into one of the following categories: (1) a lodging for transient guests located within a building with more than five rooms for rent; (2) a facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including such facilities located within retail establishments and gasoline stations; (3) any place of exhibition or entertainment; (4) any establishment located within an establishment falling into one of the first three categories, and which holds itself out as serving patrons of that establishment; or (5) any establishment that contains a covered establishment, and which holds itself out as serving patrons of that covered establishment. Bishop v. Henry Modell & Co., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104830, 39-40 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 2009)

In other words, if this bill is passed and I travel to Maryland, I potentially lose my rights when dealing with hotels, restaurants, theatres, shopping malls… all because irrational people assume that being trans somehow automatically makes me a sexual predator.

The Porcelain Red Herring

That’s the infuriating part of all of this. I’m transsexual, and have been using the womens’ restroom ever since I transitioned, years ago.  It has never been illegal for me to do so.  Making it an issue at this point in time is archaic on a level that is mind boggling.  The Transgender Law and Policy Institute notes around 130 jurisdictions in the US where explicit legal inclusion for transgender and transsexual people exists (some back to 1975), and yet the only incident of the kind being imagined by opponents was staged by opponents (more on this in a moment).  The conflation of trans people with sexual predators is a fallacy.

It’s also ludicrous to speculate that a cisgender / cissexual sexual predator would risk drawing attention to himself by crossdressing, in order to access a washroom that he’d have better luck just sneaking into when no one is looking.  This is simply a meme designed to generate a quick panic response, and exploit the “ick” factor for people whose idea of what trans is hasn’t evolved past Shirley Q. Liquor.

In the US south, decades earlier, there was reluctance to desegregate washrooms because of “delicate sensibilities” and beliefs in the inferiority and impurity of entire groups of people.  In the advent of HIV, there were ignorant comments about gay men in washrooms, borne by fears that had not yet been dispelled by science that AIDS could be contracted from a toilet seat.  I even remember discussions in the 1980s when disabled washrooms were first proposed, in which people expressed their “discomfort” of encountering amputees in intimate spaces (which is a pretty chilling and disgusting objection nowadays, isn’t it?).  And every time, there was hysteria.  Every time, it was unfounded. Every time, our society ultimately moved toward progress, inclusion and accommodation, anyway, and bigots just had to bloody well get over it.  And every time, we looked back and realized that the potty panic was just plain offensive.

Exactly Because This Persists

What people are failing to see is that potty fear is in fact the strongest argument FOR trans human rights inclusion.  And I strongly believe that the moment we realize that and confront Bathroom Bill rhetoric head-on and turn it back on the homophobes and transphobes, we will have human rights opponents tripping over themselves to disavow it.

If we are prepared to stand up and say something.

Human rights protections are necessary exactly because this irrational fear persists.  It’s necessary exactly because trans people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators, or labeled as “sick,” “perverse,” and “freaks.”  It’s necessary exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they argue for our deliberate exclusion from human rights under the pretext that granting them would be “dangerous” or “scary.” It’s necessary exactly because this bias is so entrenched that people think nothing about broadcasting it openly as though fact.  It’s necessary exactly because this “ick factor” response is seen as justification for not allowing an entire group of people to share the same space, to terminate their employment or to evict them.  It’s necessary exactly because it is so pervasive that discrimination becomes not only likely but inevitable — especially if there is no explicit direction in law to the contrary on the matter.

Maryland Redux

Politics is local.  In 2007, Montgomery County, Maryland teleported itself into the middle of the conflict between far right Christian Nationalists (as opposed to Christians, some of whom are affirming) and LGBT people, when the NotMyShower website was established and “Citizens for a Responsible Government” (CRG) took the “ew, ick” impulse that cisgender people had about their mythic impression of trans people, mixed it with their feeling of vulnerability in washrooms and came up with the modern version of the “Bathroom Bill” formula.  The meme was originally about showers (where actual nudity could theoretically happen) before they discovered that making it about public restrooms better enabled their scaremongering to go viral.  This probably wasn’t a previously unheard-of objection, but it was polished and perfected into a political technique in Maryland.

Complete with a washroom invasion at a gym and spa in Gaithersburg.   Here is how it was reported on by a local ABC television affiliate, on Tuesday January 15, 2008:

A man dressed as a woman walked into the women’s locker room at the Rio Sport and Health Club in Gaithersburg Monday, spawning concerns over a new controversial law designed to protect transgendered people.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, a man wearing a dress walked into the women’s locker room surprising Mary Ann Ondray who was drying her hair. “I could see his muscles, I could see his large hands. He was wearing a blue ruffled skirt that came down to above the knee.”

The male left without saying anything, but Ondray says, “I was very upset, I’m still upset. There’s a lot he could’ve seen.”

Club officials say he is a male club member, but it’s still unclear why he was dressed as a woman or why he didn’t use a designated family restroom.

(Incidentally, the use of a single-stall locking restroom is in fact the policy for pre- or non-operative trans people at the health club in question)

Speculation abounded almost immediately afterward, and was so blatantly obvious that CRG’s Theresa Rickman eventually admitted to having staged the incident — but it’s still sometimes pointed to by opponents, since the media didn’t as widely report the deception:

THERESA RICKMAN: Yes, at Rio Sport and Health up in Germantown. A guy dressed as a girl went into the ladies bathroom. And, ah you know, essentially what uh, that was meant to get some media attention, you know, and the guy left immediately apparently, I mean but there was, this is the Rio Sport and Health Club, you know and Sport and Health has steam rooms, and there are ladies changing in those locker rooms, people in various stages of undress [laughing] all the time, so there’s lots a guy can see.

Transphobia has fomented in Maryland with a peculiar intensity in the past four years,where an odyssey unfolded which saw trans protections pass in Montgomery County, only to have opponents push a petition drive fiercely enough to put the option on the ballot for voters to repeal it… only for the courts to then recognize that enough of the petition’s signatures were questionable or likely to have been obtained under false pretenses to invalidate it.  Montgomery County also saw a murder attempt that was investigated as a hate crime in 2009, and attempts to destroy Dana Beyer’s political career.

Context is everything, and it’s important to recognize how the “Bathroom Bill” spin cycle progressed in Maryland, and where it differs or is similar to what happened elsewhere.

Oh Canada!

Transsexuals — those people who are primarily being villainized in the washroom territory dispute — face challenges to their very existence regularly during a transition process that is recognized by medical authorities as valid and necessary.  Zoe Brain outlines quite vividly the kinds of hoops we need to go through when we begin our transition… and how it is far from a whim.

That’s not good enough for Charles McVety.  He feels that:

“Bill C-389 is a danger to our children,” said Charles McVety, president of the Institute for Canadian Values. “If ‘gender identity’ is enshrined in the Criminal Code of Canada, any male at any time will be permitted in girls’ bathrooms, showers and change rooms as long as they have an ‘innate feeling’ of being female.”

If one has the innate feeling of having a doctorate — and the cash — on the other hand, why not?

McVety and other homo/transphobes started up the spin cycle almost from the moment that trans protections went to committee for second reading. Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada tried to exploit mental health prejudices by repeatedly citing a pamphlet by the American College of Pediatricians (a legitimate-sounding medical body that screens its membership according to far-right views on abortion and homosexuality, and whose publication has been disavowed by the American Academy of Pediatrics — the accepted authority in ACP’s domain).  The website No Apologies openly proclaimed allegations that trans people are “sexual predators and voyeurs.”  The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada was notable among several online initiatives by automating the process so that with a click of a button, people who were sufficiently frightened by the rhetoric could click a button and mail every Member of Parliament with a prepared letter.

And although mainstream media — outside the Harper government -influenced Sun Media, which is currently trying to launch a preferentially-treated television network that is referred to as “Fox News North” — refused to dignify much of the washroom scare tripe (and sometimes printed notably positive editorials), trans voices were largely excluded the conversation about trans rights almost altogether.  This happened despite the fact that trans people across Canada approached media with a willingness to speak on the issue.

But regardless of all of this, on February 9th, 2011, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression) on a narrow vote of 143-135.  In a nation that hadn’t encountered “Bathroom Bill” spin before and had been somewhat insulated from similar discussions that happened south of the border, it had fared better… but still (thus far) failed.

Incidentally, McVety runs an organization directly funded by John Hagee and Focus on the Family, Landolt uses talking points that are almost verbatim those used by Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition (and derived from CRG), and Tristan Emmanuel — mentor to Timothy Bloedow and the original founder of both No Apologies and a centre dedicated to training Evangelicals and Christian Nationalists to try to form a biblically-driven government — now runs a company that publishes Matt Barber.  If we don’t think these folks are trading strategies, we’re fooling ourselves.

Missoula, Montana: The Little City That Could

Alberta is very much a community caught between Montana’s ranchman culture, Texas oil culture and our trademark Canadian complacency.  As well as being the birthplace of the Harper government and a hotbed for Christian Nationalism, we were home to the Stephen Boissoin “religious persecution” hate speech case heard around the world, provided a home (and tenure!) to a military psychiatrist who was accused of using horrific techniques to cure gays in South Africa, and witnessed the firing of a teacher by a publicly-funded Catholic school board that explicitly stated the termination was because of his transition to male.  At some moments, we’re embarrassingly regressive, and yet there is a fiercely progressive streak among the public not often reflected by provincial politics or social issues.  It is this stubborn live-and-let-live silent majority that has endeared me to Alberta and kept me here, and it is because Montana is quite similar in this regard that I had followed the events in Missoula closely.

To me, Missoula signaled the beginning of the end of the Bathroom Bill tactic.  There, opponents took the (by this time) highly original approach of creating the NotMyBathroom website and engaged in several distortions.  But there was a difference.  With a little information, people saw through the fearmongering.

In a panel hosted by Forward Montana and featuring a Wyoming Republican, a pastor, a veteran and a past chairman of the Montana College Republicans, the latter stated in support of LGBT protections: “I cannot believe we’re fighting issues like this in 2010.”  And although members of CrossPoint Community Church and senior pastor Dr. Bruce Speer disrupted a meeting of community religious leaders who came together to express support for the ordinance, the affirming leaders soldiered on, forming Flush the Fear, which declares:

“All people should be free from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  Faith communities value dignity, fairness, diversity, and justice, and we know our strength as a community is based on treating each other fairly and with respect.  Our group will be a strong and peaceful voice for the full inclusion of the LGBT community in non-discrimination policy.”

Allies and affirming people of faith stood with us.  Cisgender people who realized that they too were the focus of hatred for thinking outside the stereotypically male and stereotypically female boxes stood with us.  And on April 10th, civic legislators passed an ordinance to protect LGBT people at a margin of 10-2.  Don’t get me wrong — this didn’t happen without vile rhetoric and loud opposition… but enough people saw through it to do the right thing.

“Fool me once…”

Once that happened, opponents of LGBT rights (because it wasn’t only trans people who the ordinance protected) realized they couldn’t use pee fear in an overt capacity, and pushed the state government to pass legislation that would invalidate Missoula’s ordinance under the pretext of making human rights protections consistent throughout the state, thereby avoiding confusion.  If that sounds spurious, you’re not the only one.  Especially when cast against the disgusting comments by Dr. William Wise during discussion of a concurrent bill to remove sodomy from the Montana penal code.

Although, that hasn’t stopped the “Bathroom Bill” meme from being used under the radar:

Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, defended the right “not to be overregulated.”

He said he has heard comments from people asking about whether a business, under the ordinance, could legally keep “a certain sector” out of a multi-stall public restrooms. It was an apparent reference to transgender men [sic] using women’s restrooms, an issue raised by some people testifying against the bill in hearings.

But ultimately, washrooms (which — like anywhere else trans protections exist — have not experienced an actual trans predator since the ordinance passed) were never the issue at all: refusal to coexist with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people was.

(Montanans who want to petition legislators or find out how they can be involved can find out info via the Montana Human Rights Network.  The bill was recently amended to narrow it so that it specifically changed ONLY Missoula’s protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity)

Maryland Revisited

So the struggle comes right back to Maryland, with a state-wide ordinance HB235.  This time, because peoples’ concerns about washrooms had put intense pressure on her, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties) dropped a provision for “public accommodations” from it.  Pena-Melnyk had sponsored trans-inclusive legislation since 2007, and this was reportedly a difficult decision — but ultimately, the support that she would have needed to overcome the “Bathroom Bill” meme just wasn’t there.

Noting that supporters were unable to get the bill out of committee during the past three years, [Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan] Meneses-Sheets said most supporters believe an incremental strategy of advancing employment and housing protections for transgender people this year is a “far better” option than seeing the bill go down to defeat and having no protections at all.

An online petition has been started to have the provision reinstated and a Facebook group has been set up to”Tell Maryland Legislators NO to HB235 Omitting Public Accommodations.”  Equality Maryland has come under fire for silencing critics of the move.  On Tuesday, activists from Trans Maryland rallied outside the Supreme Court to try to have the provision reinstated (although commenters have questioned whether the rally might have been more effective at the MD state legislature).

Meanwhile, opponents continue to oppose the bill — this time, because it “redefines gender.”  And even when acknowledging the removal of the public accommodations provision, they continue raising the specter of “bathroom rapes” by citing violent acts committed by people who aren’t trans at all and weren’t enabled in any way by an extension of human rights protections to trans people.

The underpinnings of every community’s political situation is always different from situation to situation.  Maryland is not Canada is not Missoula is not ENDA.  Toilet terror has been waged longer, fiercer and and more bitterly than anywhere on the planet so far.  It is inevitable that some LGBT Marylanders will feel that something is better than nothing, at this point.  But even if a best-case scenario unfolded for incrementalists and HB235 passed, with public accommodations being added in some way shortly thereafter (and before someone could be negatively affected by its absence), the act of removing the provision has already seriously fractured pro-trans forces in that state.

Missoula was the beginning of the end of washroom tactics… unless we wave the white flag of surrender.

So What is the Answer?

It’s one thing to condemn and criticize.  It’s another to come up with a solution, and that is the challenge we face both in Maryland and anywhere the “Bathroom Bill” talking points are exploited.  This is the moment we either rise to that challenge or turn on each other.  “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

In some private discussions during the quest to pass Bill C-389 in Canada, there was some talk about doing a “sit-out” protest (either at a visible government building washroom entrance or with the iconic male and female symbols put on the doors of the government buildings themselves) that uses the theme of being shut out of washrooms as a metaphor for being shut out of legislation, human rights and basic necessities. Media releases sent out the night before would use the washroom angle to generate interest, and then during a daytime rally (in the media cycle), speakers could focus on that, telling stories of exclusion from within the trans community, and having a handout.

Ultimately, too many people were afraid of possibly lending credence to the meme, and it never happened.  And depending on what happens in the Senate, it may not have been necessary.  But I do believe that by effective communication, and by including a diversity of people — especially cisgender people who queer their gender a bit (making the point of how gender expression protections are of value to far more than trans people) — it can turn the conversation right back on the fearmongers.  Because that’s what we need to do.

But politics is local.  Is Maryland the time and place to revisit this?

All of a sudden, these things just started appearing in womens’ washrooms everywhere.

And then, there’s the possibility of a stickering campaign, which could be employed anywhere that washroom panic is used to attempt to deny trans people legal protections.  It would require the participation of those trans people and allies who do use a ladies’ restroom, to cumulatively make it be noticed and be effective.   Because if a sticker like this started appearing in washrooms all across North America, the discussion would likely change.  Completely.

(I have the URL, and would be more than happy to employ it to flush the fear on an international level.  I would not, however, be able to fund and maintain it on my own.)

This would require people to have the stickers printed and place them, and is a relatively inexpensive approach that could be done on a grassroots level.  It could, however, cause some blow-back, from those who would portray us as “men invading womens’ spaces.”  It is the only part of the discussion that the general public will see as having merit, but it is one of the central foundations of the “Bathroom Bill” argument, and something that will need to be addressed.  If we proceed on a sticker campaign, we will need to be prepared and equipped to do this.

This would be a bit different from initiatives like that of a coalition of Illinois groups, who started a campaign to highlight businesses that have trans-inclusive washroom policies.

I’m sure there are more ideas.

It’s infuriating that we should have to dignify washroom predator rhetoric with a response.  But if we must, then let’s turn it right back on the fearmongers and use it to show exactly why it demonstrates that trans-inclusive human rights legislation is needed.  Starting right where it all began and moving all across North America.

Because with ENDA being about to be reintroduced in the House soon (albeit more symbolically than otherwise), and being championed by a legislator who has done more to perpetuate the washroom scare than to challenge it, I doubt American trans folk can afford to let this tactic run amok, anymore.

This has been diaried at DailyKos.  If you feel it should have wide visibility, please vote there for it to be promoted to the front page.

Also crossposted to The Bilerico Project, DentedBlueMercedes and Progressive Bloggers.

Edit: Thanks to Dana Beyer for reviewing the Maryland information in this article.

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