As LGBT Americans continue their fight for equality, the subject of bathrooms has taken center stage. You might remember how they were used in the argument against Houston’s Equal Right’s Ordinance.
On Tuesday, Houston voters rejected the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in a low-turnout election where only slightly more than a quarter of the city’s voters actually cast a ballot. Those that did turn out got to decide the fate of a broad civil rights ordinance that targeted a wide range of discrimination, from race to religion to military status to sexual orientation and gender identity.
If you paid any attention to the campaign against this law, however, you probably knew it by another name — the “bathroom ordinance.”
Anti-LGBT groups fought HERO by claiming that it would enable “any man at any time” to “enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day.” Ads featured pedophiles locking themselves in a bathroom stalls with young girls. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) summarized his case against HERO in five words — “No men in women’s bathrooms.”
More recently the conservative reaction to granting equal rights to transgender people has taken the form of laws like the one recently passed in North Carolina which requires everyone to use the bathroom correlating to the gender on their birth certificate. As one North Carolina Republican legislator put it – their intent was “to restore common sense bathroom and shower management policy.”
Over our history, the subject of bathrooms has often been the “go-to” argument for conservatives who fought against civil rights. During the Jim Crow days, Southerners went to elaborate lengths to provide separate bathrooms for white and “colored” people – even installing them in their own homes for The Help.
I’m old enough to remember the days when the Equal Rights Amendment was under discussion. Conservatives dubbed that one the “Common Toilet Law.” All of the ways that amendment would have granted equal rights to women were reduced to a fear of unisex bathrooms.
I suppose it would be possible for some social psychologist to explain the underlying issues that lead to this conservative fixation on bathrooms. It simply strikes me as a very unhealthy phenomenon. But more importantly, it is a huge distraction from the issue at hand…equal rights.