Bathroom bills have been popping up in state after state — you know, the laws that say transgender people can’t use a bathroom unless it matches their birth certificate. In other words, you can’t pee unless you show your toilet papers.
Why are we suddenly seeing so many of these? The politicians pushing them claim that they just want to protect people. And you know what? They’re right ― stopping trans people from using the bathroom will protect people. But not the people they say.
They’re devoting a lot of thought to seats ― but not toilet seats, legislative seats. These discriminatory bills don’t protect citizens, they protect politicians. Here’s how:
In 2016, there were around fifty bills introduced in various states that discriminated against trans people ― not just in bathrooms, but in housing, education, employment, and more. And when you look at who introduced those bills, a funny pattern starts to appear.
For example, HB 4474 in Illinois, introduced by Tom Morrison. He was up for re-election last year, and won.
Or HB 1624, introduced by Steve Cookson in Missouri. He was up for re-election, and won.
Colleen Garry won her re-election in Massachusetts last year after introducing HB1320. So did Bob McDermott, with HB 2181 in Hawaii.
I looked at 197 legislators who wrote, introduced, or co-sponsored trans discrimination bills in 2016. Of them, three quarters were running for re-election that year. And of the politicians running for re-election who introduced discriminatory bills, 96% kept their seat.
Let’s be clear: this country does not have a problem with trans people committing crimes in bathrooms. But what we do have is a lot of politicians in search of some way to pander to their base. If this was a decade ago, they’d come up with a wedge issue like, oh I don’t know, same-sex marriage. That’s what they did in 2004, and it worked great ― Republicans put marriage equality on the ballot in 11 states, and more in state legislatures. And how did they justify those laws? By claiming that banning gay marriage would protect children.
Sound familiar? They’re doing exactly the same thing with bathrooms that they did with marriage. In 2004, the GOP wove a fantasy about gay marriage being a threat to children, that same-sex couples are dangerous. They can’t get away with that anymore. So now those same political forces have turned to the next group they can tell a scary story about: trans people who just want to pee.
And let’s be clear: Trans people have been using facilities consistent with their gender identity for decades, and there are no documented cases of any trans person using an inclusive bathroom policy to harass, or attack, or commit any kind of crime in this country. Banning trans people doesn’t make bathrooms safer.
In fact, if anyone’s in danger, it’s trans people themselves. A Williams Institute study showed that 70% have been been harassed or attacked when trying to use a bathroom. So if politicians really cared about safety, they’d make bathrooms more inclusive, not less.
These bans exist to benefit one group, and one group alone: politicians ― overwhelmingly Republican ― who are worried about losing their seats and don’t mind pandering to unfounded fears.
That worked great with gay marriage in 2004. It worked again with bathrooms in 2016. If only those laws could protect citizens as well as they protect the politicians passing them.