We, as human beings, tend to think in boxes. I remember going through Total Quality Management training in the Navy (which the Navy renamed Total Quality Leadership training), and remember hearing that phrase “paradigm shift.” You know, the Broedling embraced concept of:
Fundamental change in an individual’s or a society’s view of how things work in the world. For example, the shift from earth to sun as the center of solar system, ‘humors’ to microbes as causes of disease, heart to brain as the seat of thinking and feeling.
The phrase became really overused — people who still thought in boxes pretty much used the phrase to mean “think in slightly larger boxes.”
But what if the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community’s non-profit organizations really began to stop ceding the “bathroom bill” meme in our community struggle for ordinary equality, and tried to think out of the box — or at least in a bigger box — to confront the meme directly?
Montgomery County, Maryland Police Chief J. Thomas Manger sent a letter to the Baltimore County Councilmember Tom Quirk (R-Catonsville) that appears to me to be an example of how we can confront this meme.
The situation is this: Councilmember Quirk introduced a bill entitled Act Concerning Human Relations (Human Relations Bill No. 3-12). The bill is an antidiscrimination bill based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the Columbia Patch, Quirk indicated:
“It’s my strong belief that the only thing that should matter is someone’s qualifications for a job,” Quirk said.
…The bill will also contain language dealing with the use of public accommodations, including public restrooms. The language in the bill will allow employers the flexibility to set their own rules on the use of restrooms[.]
Ruth Jacobs, president of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government, has argued against the bill in this way:
Women are easily victimized and ladies’ bathrooms can be risky places when men have access. Since the passing of a similar law in Montgomery County, Maryland, rapes have occurred in the women’s bathrooms of Montgomery Community College, Asbury nursing home, Pelican restaurant, and Bethesda Hyatt.
Confronting this, Chief Manger sent the following in a letter to Councilmember Quirk on January 17, 2012:
Dear Councilmember Quirk:
I am writing to clarify information that has been brought to my attention regarding alleged sexual assaults in Montgomery County. It was brought to my attention that there is an allegation stating that since the Transgender Law was passed in our county we have experienced four (4) rapes by men dressing as women and lying in wait for their victims in ladies restrooms.
The Transgender Bill was passed by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, November 13, 2007, and became law shortly thereafter. Since the law has been in effect, we have had no reported rapes committed in restroom by men dressed in women’s clothing.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.
J. Thomas Manger
Chief of Police
And therein lies a strategy to confront the “bathroom bill” meme. There are several states, cities, and counties that have passed antidiscrimination protections based on either sexual orientation and gender identity, or gender identity alone, and there are attorney generals, district attorneys, sheriffs, and police chief’s in those states, cities, and counties. So why not ask these law enforcement officials two questions, and ask for a letter in response? The two questions would be this:
- Is bathroom predation of women and children by “men in dresses”/”transvestites” a common occurrence in your jurisdiction?
- If it is a common occurrence, is it a more common occurrence your jurisdiction since your antidiscrimination law based on gender identity has been in effect?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Montgomery County in 2010 was 971,777 — so the letter that Chief Manger wrote covers a jurisdiction that’s just shy of a million people. Imagine if we had a dozen or two law enforcement officials writing letters similar to the Montgomery County letter — how many millions of people in the jurisdictions that respond could letters such as Chief Manger’s cover?.
This is something that the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Transgender Law Center, The Task Force, or the Human Rights Campaign — or a coalition of many, if not all of these organizations — could take on as a project. Then imagine if in every new jurisdiction that an antidiscrimination measure was referred to as a “bathroom bill,” the HRC ran a full page ad in one of the jurisdiction’s largest news publication — and then gaining earned media coverage of the ad with a press release and phone calls to local television stations.
The message would be, of course, that the people calling an antidiscrimination a “bathroom bill” would be put on the defensive. LGBT community would be able to essentially say:
We have all of these law enforcement officials saying the “bathroom bill” meme is fear-mongering instead of fact based. When opponents of this antidiscrimination bill say this is a “bathroom bill,” they need to provide proof that the issue of bathroom predation by trans people, and people pretending to be trans people, is a fact-based issue and not just fear-mongering.
And if this isn’t considered by LGBT non-profits to be a good strategy for dealing with the “bathroom bill” meme, then let’s have the LGBT non-profits get together and think out of the box — or at least in a bigger box — about what strategies and what tactics could work to directly confront the “bathroom bill” meme as the fear-mongering argument it is.
The proposed antidiscrimination bill in Baltimore County, Maryland doesn’t just cover gender identity, it covers sexual orientation and gender identity. The “bathroom bill” meme isn’t just a concern for trans people, but is a concern for the entire LGBT community. The “bathroom bill” meme doesn’t just impact civil rights for some of us in community, but all of us in community. We definitely could use a real paradigm shift.