Last week, a much abused and beleaguered equal rights ordinance failed to win public support in Houston. There’s plenty of background to HERO here, explaining how it seeks to protect LGBT individuals in a state which offers them no legal rights of employment, medical treatment, or housing. Without such protection, your landlord can evict you for being gay; your boss can fire you; you can’t use the appropriate restrooms if the wrong box is ticked on your birth certificate.
It’s the last point on which the legislation died. The right wing whipped up a frenzy about “men” being allowed into women’s bathrooms, and that was all the general public heard or knew about the amendment. Even Wikipedia describes the ordinance solely as a bill which “gave transgender women the right to use women’s restrooms.”
In response to HERO’s rejection, rather than look at the dramatic failings of the wider LGBT community to communicate with the public (in a city almost 40% Hispanic, there was no Spanish-language campaign on the pro side), a small subsection of LGBs decided to ditch trans rights from the queer rights movement. A change.org petition, currently signed by just over 2,000 people, demands that queer rights organisations such as GLAAD, HRC, etc, “stop representing the transgender community as we feel their ideology is not only completely different from that promoted by the LGB community (LGB is about sexual orientation, trans is about gender identity), but is ultimately regressive and actually hostile to the goals of women and gay men.”
It isn’t regressive and hostile, it’s simply proving harder to win.
The bathroom scare tactics weren’t founded in any credible risk. There have been zero instances of men pretending to be women in order to gain access to women’s spaces and commit sexual assault. Simply put, if a man wants to rape a woman in a bathroom, the fact he isn’t female won’t be the thing that stops him entering and doing it. Yet the idea was a simple one, powerfully used, and the result was legislation which would have protected all of us failed to pass.
A counter-petition to “keep the T” has more than double the number of signatories of the original, but it wasn’t necessary. GLAAD had already released statement confirming they “stands firmly with the transgender community and unequivocally rejects the outrageous and destructive idea that the ‘T’ be removed from LGBT.” Chad Griffin, president of the HRC also condemned the original petition, saying: “This idea that we are somehow separate and apart is patently untrue. We are one movement, stronger in our unity. We are one community, period.”
While the matter of jettisoning our trans brothers and sisters wasn’t ever going to be seriously considered, we do need to think long and hard about how we continue to work for full legal rights in the months and years ahead. Right now, the legal road to same-sex marriage looks to be the easiest one we’ll tread.