Academics, pundits, journalists and advocates have all weighed in on the recent defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). I did so, too, taking particular note on the issue of transgender visibility, education and leadership.
One academic has given us much more to chew on, taking a brief historical overview of how conservatives have used bathroom politics to attack minorities for nearly a century.
Gillian Frank’s piece, “Stalling Civil Rights: Conservative Sexual Thought has been in the Toilet Since the 1940s,” begins with a simple premise:
The conservative idea that civil rights protections sexually endanger women and children in public bathrooms is not new. In fact, conservative sexual thought has been in the toilet since the 1940s. During the WWII era, conservatives began employing the idea that social equality for African Americans would lead to sexual danger for white women in bathrooms. In the decades since, conservatives used this trope to negate the civil rights claims of women and sexual minorities. Placing Houston’s rejection of HERO within the history of discrimination against racial minorities, sexual minorities and women reveals a broader pattern: when previously marginalized groups demanded access to public accommodations, conservatives responded with toilet talk to stall these groups’ aspirations for social equality.
Frank goes on to outline how conservatives have used bathroom politics to attack African-American civil rights and integration, the Equal Rights Amendment and gay men.
In Houston and elsewhere (including Charlotte), anti-LGBT campaigners zeroed in on the ugly, distorted lie that non-discrimination protections would allow sexual predators access to restrooms of the opposite sex. Many also routinely compared trans people to predators. The media often followed that narrative.
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think most in the general public care enough to read in depth on this history. And that’s why I’ll be looking to journalists and others who shape public opinion to take a look at this piece. When coverage on non-discrimination efforts starts up again in Charlotte — as it will, no doubt — I want writers, reporters and editors to understand this history. Are they going to continue its shameful, damaging legacy or will they actually take the time to properly inform their readers or viewers? I’m, of course, hoping for the latter.