On Tuesday, Houston voters struck down that city's anti-discrimination ordinance, which would have prohibited bias based on gender identity, sex, race, age and sexual orientation. The vote capped a bitter year-long fight in which the city's social conservatives argued that its marginalized communities — especially The Gays — are sexual deviants who don't deserve legal protection from otherwise law-abiding, straight-sex having, God-fearing Houstonites. And, in any case, Houston loves everybody, so why single out a select few for special treatment? Duh.
The build-up to Tuesday's vote was full of drama. Horrified at the thought of allowing transgender men and women the right to use the restroom in peace, said social conservatives doubled down on a single message — "No Men in the Women's Restroom!" — plastered it on signs all around the city, terrifying parents into thinking that their innocent little children would be forever scarred the next time they drank too much limeade on those Saturday afternoon trips to the mall.
But, you know, maybe those voters had a point. Maybe we don't actually need more protections for marginalized communities. Maybe they're fine just the way they are, and we're all just living in some politically correct nightmare.
Let's take a look at the arguments that won over Houston voters — and why they're disastrously wrong.
The Argument: We need to protect the sanctity of public women's restrooms.
Reality: Women's bathrooms are often terrible — unflushed poop bombs and tampons await as you pray there's enough toilet paper to handle your business and hope you don't fart so loud your boss two stalls down can hear you.
But shits and giggles aside, trans bathroom panic is real. It's become one of the most persuasive tactics leveraged by social conservatives who prefer the confines of the gender binary. Earlier this year in Charlotte, North Carolina, Democratic party activist Janice Covington Allison, who is transgender, went to the women's bathroom at the city's government center to comb her hair and was confronted by a female police officer. "I was in shock," she later told the Charlotte Observer. "I asked her, 'Am I being arrested?' When we walked out the door, there were 20 people standing there, eyeballing me and pointing at me, and it was clear they were talking about me."
The incident became an important moment in what wound up being a losing fight to secure a anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte. The opposition was led by Flip Benham, a conservative pastor, convicted stalker and LGBT-wedding-crasher, who led a group of protesters to confront a 17-year-old transgender girl identified as Olivia outside of a women's bathroom in March. "I don't want a pervert like yourself trying to misrepresent what happened in there when that young boy went into that bathroom with the young girls," Benham reportedly told Olivia, according to Matt Comer, who first reported the incident at Qnotes.
But who's most likely to be attacked when a trans person walks into a public bathroom? That trans person. A study by the Williams Institute, an LGBT-focused think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that 70% of transgender people reported being harassed while trying to use public restrooms. Ten percent reported being assaulted.
Meanwhile, a Mic report from earlier this year revealed that there are no reported cases of trans people attacking cisgender people in bathrooms. Writer Matt Baume also expertly debunked this whole myth in a recent video: "Public restrooms are unpleasant enough," he says in the video. "Now imagine if every time you had to use one, some stranger would start yelling at you, or try to drag you out."
That would be awful. Even more awful then the usual awfulness of awful public restrooms.
The Argument: Marriage equality solved everything.
Right. That didn't happen.
Reality: While the institution of marriage does provide its adherents with many state and federal benefits, it did not change the material circumstances of countless LGBT people who are more likely to live in poverty, be fired from their jobs (or not hired at all) and denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Argument: Anti-discrimination laws have ruined the cities and states in which they're implemented.
Reality: Dozens of cities and states have passed anti-discrimination laws in recent years precisely to deal with the reality of discrimination people face in public accommodations based on their race, gender, sexual identity, age or religion. Fewer than half of all states currently have laws on the books that would protect LGBT workers from workplace discrimination. (A federal bill that would target discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation or age has been stalled in Congress for decades.) Funny thing, though: When states adopt nondiscrimination laws, they don't fall apart. Nor have these laws torn apart their states' moral fabric.
In fact, a 2012 analysis by the Center for American Progress found that these laws did exactly what they were designed to do: add a level of accountability and legal recourse for workers who faced discrimination, without completely flooding states with false complaints.
The Argument: Texas is a great place to live if you're LGBT or gender-nonconforming.
Reality: Houston was one of 10 Texas municipalities, including Dallas and San Antonio, that had an anti-discrimination law at the start of 2015. The Williams Institute estimated this year that about 429,000 LGBT workers in Texas are at risk for discrimination based on their gender or sexual identity. If the state adopted an anti-discrimination law, researchers estimate that more than 200 complaints would be filed each year.
But in the absence of statewide protections, Williams Institute data shows 79% of transgender workers reported being harassed on the job, while 45% reported not being hired at all because of their gender identity, 26% said they lost their jobs and 22% reported being denied a promotion. And now Houston, one of the few Southern cities that actually did have an anti-discrimination law, simply doesn't.
Everything is bigger in Texas. Unfortunately, that sentiment also applies to its appetite for discrimination.