Anti-Gay Laws are a Danger to Women

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 North Carolina has passed a reckless transphobic bill, setting LGBTQ rights and common decency back years. However, it is just one of many states pursuing violent, discriminatory laws that pose great dangers for women across the country.

 

The Background to the Backlash

In 2015, same-sex marriage became legal across the United States. While it was far from an easy fight, it came on the heels of a massive social change.

For example, in a Pew Research poll from 2001, an overwhelming amount of Americans—57%—opposed same-sex marriage, while just 35% of Americans were in favor of it. However, just 14 years later, 55% of Americans were in favor of gay marriage and just 39% opposed it. And while gay marriage is just one small, but important, aspect of LGBTQ rights, its acceptance does reflect a larger liberalization towards sexual orientation and gender expression. Amazingly, such a massive sea change has occurred in less than a generation.

And just as the swiftly, the backlash to this social progress has appeared.

Conservative lawmakers have taken an insidious path towards dismantling the gains in LGBTQ rights. Taking a page from anti-affirmative action and anti-choice legislation, anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and activists have developed an obstructionist pathway for undermining these newly gained rights. Because they cannot overturn the federal mandate for gay marriage overnight, especially since most Americans would oppose this, conservatives are embarking on a series on anti-gay measures at the state level.

The goal seems to be to hobble federal anti-discrimination measures in a way as to make them ultimately meaningless in practice.

Take, for instance, the case of Kim Davis in Kentucky. In 2015, Davis, a county clerk whose job it is to grant marriage licenses, refused to grant marriage licenses for gay couples, citing her religious convictions.

This became a weeks-long standoff, wherein Davis was lauded by the right as a warrior for religious freedom and pilloried by the left as a bigot. Ultimately, Kentucky began to comply with law and grant marriage licenses to both gay and straight couples; however, serious damage and heartache had already been done.

Yet despite the debacle in Kentucky, other states have gone forward with discriminatory legislation. For example, Indiana passed a homophobic discriminatory law in 2015, and faced a number of lawsuits and blows to the state’s reputation. Indiana Senate Bill 101, also known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” allowed for private companies to discriminate against LGBT folk. For example, the O’Connor family, the owners of Memories pizzeria in Walkerton, Indiana cited their Christian faith as the foundation for their opposition to serving gay customers: “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no…We are a Christian establishment.” While it is safe to assume that little to none would enlist Memories pizza as their wedding caterer, nevertheless, the restaurant’s brazen attitude towards discrimination is absolutely appalling.

Using their faith as a crutch to deny service in a public establishment is cowardly and a poor business model. And while Indiana has somewhat amended this statute, it has only brought the law back to the pre-Indiana Senate Bill 101 level, meaning individuals still will not be protected under the law on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Despite all the controversy surrounding Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, Georgia is also pursuing similar discriminatory law.The ironically named “Free Exercise Protection Act,” bills itself as another religious freedom bill. In reality, it gives not quite carte blanche to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Officially, the bill allows for the following: “to amend Chapter 3 of Title 19 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to marriage generally, so as to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion; to amend Chapter 1 of Title 10 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to selling and other trade practices, so as to change certain provisions relating to days of rest for employees of business and industry; to protect property owners which are religious institutions against infringement of religious freedom; to define a term; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”

In layman’s terms, the Georgia law would ensure a few things. One, clergy cannot be forced to perform same-sex marriages. In fact, the law ensures that no one can be forced to attend a same-sex wedding, a provision that is likely meant to protect photographers, caterers, and other wedding staff. Ultimately, these legal provisions allow faith-based organizations to refuse to hire, to fire, or to refuse services if they feel that doing so violates their faith.

Thankfully, Georgia governor Nathan Deal, a politician certainly not known for progressive tendencies has vowed to veto the bill, remarking that the bill “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people.” The fight in Georgia is far from over, however. There may be enough votes in the state legislature to override the governor’s veto.

Georgia—particularly its capitol city of Atlanta—is home to a variety of lucrative industries, industries that do not take kindly to the bad press and possible negative repercussions of a blatantly Despite the fact that industries, such as film studios, Disney, the NFL, and Home Depot, across the state vow to boycott if the legislation passes.

Yet and still, despite all of this, North Carolina has just passed a bill that allows discrimination against transgender individuals. The bill, House Bill 2, was passed in March 2016.

The law is insidious in two significant ways: 1) it overturns and bans local laws that do not conform to the state's nondiscrimination laws for the workplace and public places. However, because North Carolina does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in these places, this effectively makes it legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in these places, regardless of one’s religious convictions; 2) It prohibits transgender people from using restrooms, locker rooms, or changing areas in schools and government agencies based solely on their gender identity. Rather, they are mandated to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on the gender they were assigned birth.

Taken together, this legislation reinforces discriminatory practices and introduces new ones.

Allies for the bill claim that they are preventing the potential for sexual assault, arguing that any man, maybe even one who is a sexual predator or convicted sex offender, could enter a woman's restroom or locker room simply by calling himself transgender. The subtext is that trans women are not really women, but men intent on preying on “real” women in gender-segregated areas.

In many ways, the state law is a reaction to a city ordinance that aimed to ban discrimination. In February 2016, the city government of Charlotte, North Carolina, passed an ordinance to ban businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ people, adding sexual discrimination to other protected identities, such as ability, race, or religion.

However, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory had vowed to overturn the measure, taking particular issue with the trans inclusive language. And so the governor along with the state legislature created a new law containing sweeping discrimination.

 

Why is this women’s issue?

Laws like the one recently passed in North Carolina create unsafe environments for women, particularly trans women. When lawmakers claim to be “protecting women and children” by discriminating against queer, gender nonconforming, and trans people they are denying that queer, gender nonconforming, and trans people can in fact be women and children. These laws also insinuate that queer, gender nonconforming, and trans people are predators intent on attacking cis people.

This could not be farther from the truth.

In fact, it is trans people who have more to fear from cis people in bathroom confrontations.  There have been zero reported cases of trans folk attacking anyone in any bathroom. Yet, according to a 2013 Williams Institute report approximately 70% of trans people have reported being denied entrance to, being assaulted in, or being harassed while trying to use a restroom. For example, a New York trans woman was assaulted in a bathroom at The Stonewall Inn, a historic LGBTQ landmark, in March 2016. So while transphobic lawmakers try to invoke a “trans panic” defense in order to justify their behavior, it is trans folk who are not only being denied basic human rights, but who are in the most danger.

Yet, despite the backlash, queer and trans folks and their allies are fighting back. Trans women activists such as Micky Bradford bravely stand—and dance—in the face transantagostic violence. And, already, advocacy groups in North Carolina, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the LGBT activist groups Lambda Legal and Equality NC, among others, plan to sue the state over the discriminatory law.

This isn’t the first time bathrooms have been at the center of a human rights struggle. During the civil rights movement, the fight over separate and unequal public spaces, such as bathrooms, was center stage. African Americans had to fight for decades to secure decent public places to drink water, eat, and use the bathroom.  (And African Americans continue to fight for the right to assemble and the right to eat, drive, and live while Black). Now in the twenty-first century, Americans, some of whose ancestors valiantly fought in the mid-twentieth-century for these basic human rights, are again fighting for the right to safely use the bathroom in public. This is an unfortunate case of déjà vu.

The sad truth is that when and if the North Carolina statute is overturned, more misogynistic laws will pop up to take their place. Still, misogyny, and transmisogyny in particular, does not have to have the final word.  The United States is in a true watershed moment and it is up to everyone—voters, activists, ordinary people—to speak truth to power and proclaim that every one—trans, cis, queer, and straight—deserves human dignity and the right to go to the bathroom.