Houston, we have a problem (with transgenders)

Last month the voters of Houston rejected a measure that would have banned discrimination based on gender identity. The so-named H.E.R.O.

act (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) was a pet project of outgoing Mayor Annise Parker who sought to guarantee the LGBT community certain protections not currently afforded to them under Texas law.

Parker and her supporters blamed defeat of the measure on misleading and inflammatory TV ads produced by the opposition. Those ads essentially warned voters that if passed, the H.E.R.O act would allow males who identify as females, to use public restrooms and school facilities that are designated for women. Backers of the ordinance, along with many in the press, claimed that H.E.R.O. had nothing to do with bathrooms. In fact, they were wrong. It had everything to do with bathrooms, and for once, a right wing, inflammatory TV ad was actually accurate. To be fair, the ordinance covered much more than just the use of public facilities. For example, it would have banned city government from discriminating against transgender people seeking employment and housing, and that’s OK. But if passed it would have also allowed an 18-year-old boy who thinks he’s a girl to use the girl’s restrooms and locker rooms at his local high school, and that’s not OK.

Said Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, “No woman should have to share a public locker room or restroom with a man.” Parker on the other hand, complained that, “This was a campaign of fear mongering.” Hey Mayor Parker, it’s not mongering if the fear is real. Just ask residents of Massachusetts, Colorado, and Illinois who had absolutely no say in how their gender specific public facilities have been opened to transgender people, thanks to recent rulings by the courts and federal government.

The Massachusetts Department of Education, for example, issued an order two years ago requiring all public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms, and play on sports teams, in the gender to which they identify.

That same year in Colorado, 8-year-old Coy Mathis decided he wanted to be a girl, so his parents allowed him to grow his hair long and wear dresses to school. But their enabling didn’t stop there. Mr. and Mrs. Mathis demanded that Coy be allowed to use the girls’ rest rooms or else they would take legal action. School officials pointed out that since Coy had a penis, he is still biologically a boy, and it wouldn’t be fair to other students to let him use the girls’ bathroom. In the spirit of compromise, however, the principal offered Coy the use of the school Nurse’s private bathroom. That wasn’t good enough for Coy’s grandstanding parents, who hired an attorney and filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. They eventually won their case. That same year in Chicago’s district 211, an eighth grade boy who identifies as a girl, demanded to play on the girls’ soccer team, and to use the girls’ locker room.

Again, school officials tried to be accommodating. They allowed the boy to play on the girls’ team, but they installed a curtain in the locker room so that he could change in private. Not surprisingly the boy’s parents refused the gesture. A few weeks ago the case was decided by the US Department of Education who found that the school district had violated the boy’s rights under Title IX. If the district fails to comply with DOE’s ruling, it will lose all federal funding. That means thousands of students will either abdicate their own right to privacy, or else be denied a quality education. Of course that doesn’t matter to pushy, headline grabbing parents who could give a shit about everyone else’s rights. Their arrogance and blatant disregard for others is what sets them apart from gays, lesbians, Blacks, women, and other disenfranchised groups in their respective struggles for equality. Those movements never asked for special privileges or to infringe on the rights of others. They simply wanted the same rights as everyone else. Yes they succeeded in changing social norms, but it’s one thing to disrupt the status quo, and quite another to disrupt the rights of those around you.

District 211 officials told the Chicago Tribune, “The students in our schools are teenagers, not adults, and one’s gender is not the same as one’s anatomy. Our responsibility as school administrators is to protect the privacy rights of all of our students.” And, following the Massachusetts ruling, Andrew Beckwith of the Massachusetts Family Institute told the Associated Press, “Boys need to use boys rest rooms, and we base that on anatomical sex, not some sort of internalized gender identity.” Beckwith also wisely warned that policies being put in place by the Feds actually put transgender kids at higher risk for “peer ostracism, victimization, and bullying.” In other words, those recent rulings aren’t good for anyone, yet similar cases are still clogging up the courts, including two now being decided in Virginia and South Carolina.

If the Transgender movement wants to advance, it needs to teach certain parents about compromise and common courtesy. It also needs to focus future referendums on achieving rights, and not demanding special privileges. If they fail in that regard, they risk diluting their message and their mission. As such, the Houston vote should be a wake-up call for Transgender activists, and a rally cry for those of us who resent government threats and intrusions.

We can all either peacefully co-exist, or we can continue to fight in the bathroom. Let’s hope for the former. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).