Why we must take bathroom questions seriously
Most, if not all, of us are closely acquainted with the “bathroom” issue.
I know, you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “How can anyone asking such questions can be taken seriously? Really!
Here’s the rub. Transgender people are saying to cisgender people, “Understand me by walking in my shoes.” Well, trans* friend, if the shoe fits, wear it.
While there are some outside transgender communities who use the “bathroom” as a ruse to discriminate in the law, there are many who find the idea that someone with male genitals should be allowed in women’s rooms unsettling or even scary. It is serious for them for the toilet is supposed to be a “safe” place.
So instead of just accusing all people who worry about bathrooms of being bigots or ignoramuses, transgender people need to step into their shoes and work from what is likely their knowledge base about transgenderism. My experience says, “Not much knowledge there.” They don’t understand gender identity, they don’t understand gender presentation, they don’t understand that gender comes from the brain and genitals from chromosomes. And why should they? Would you, if you weren’t trans* or involved in trans* advocacy?
So, when a bathroom issue comes up, the issue should be treated as a serious concern of many people. We at NYCTR treated the concern as the real concern that is was when the issue arose when dealing with the Albany County legislature. By doing so, we were able to alleviate the concern.
Step one: engage and be certain to understand the underlying concerns of the person with whom the question is being discussed. We have found that the issue takes a couple of twists. First, concern of their young children being in a public restroom where someone with male genitals might also be. The word child predator comes immediately to mind. The other major concern is safety and comfort level. Here the underlying assumption is that if you have male genitals, no matter how you look, you don’t belong in the women’s room. In both cases, genitals drive the worries.
Note that this is a women’s room issue only. And an issue raised mainly by men. But women too have concerns, just fewer of them.
Step two: After being sure of the underlying concern, address it head on. Start with the fact that transgender bathroom choice is driven by where the person is comfortable. Explain why, by introducing gender identity into the conversation. You know, “I feel I am a women. I behave like a female. In fact my gender is female and that controls my behavior.” This is an area that is least understood by CIS people. Listen to what is said and respond to it calmly, clearly, concisely. Explain that a transwoman is a woman; her brain is female; what’s under her clothing is irrelevant. Don’t Get Angry.
Often the argument shifts from transgender people using the bathroom to men who try to present themselves as women and go into women’s rooms. These men pretending to be women do this with evil intentions. Here a little homework is necessary. We searched for such incidents in New York, Albany, and Rochester, NY court records. No hits. Also the police Chiefs of Albany and Rochester say they have never encountered such cases. In any event, the response runs, “Is it right to discriminate against transgender people based on what non-transgender men might do?” When framed this way, most agree that it is not.
Step three: This might not be necessary, but an explanation of hormone treatment and its effects on libido just might clinch the deal. Most non-transgender people have no clue about this aspect.
Step four: The question might finally revolve around “gender presentation.” Here there is some discord between parts of the transgender community and the cisgender folks. Presentation of a gender will have to meet gender societal perceptions. Those who want to claim female identity but sport a beard or other obvious masculine attributes do not have to have access to women’s’ rooms. This is the primary concern of women themselves.
The take away? Most cisgender folks are ignorant about gender identity and presentation. That is not a reason to ignore them or scorn them. Rather some education goes a very long way.
Focus on a single political unit.
Why a single political group? And what are the criteria for choice
Personal contacts with at least a few legislators is key. You will need advocates.
NYCTR made quick contact with a young Albany County legislator, Noelle Kinsch, who helped us understand the power structure. We bypassed the sponsor of a human rights bill as he was a weaker supporter of transgender equality and would not be a strong advocate in the County legislature.
Choose a legislative body that gives unstructured access to most legislators. NYCTR thought that the Albany County legislature met our needs through their public forum sessions prior to each of the monthly meetings. We could deliver our message in our own voices to the entire body. This was key in gaining new advocates and supporters for transgender anti-discrimination legislation.
Have the right message, and stay on message.
The message that resonates is always that discrimination is wrong. Not to support anti-discrimination legislation puts a person in favor of it. All the legislators understood that. They all did not understand gender identity or expression, even after they voted to protect transgender people. So talk about discrimination not gender expression or identity.
Vary the delivery.
At each of these public forums, NYCTR provided data on the prevalence of discrimination against transgender people. We provided data on the effects of discrimination through personal stories and stories of parents who were seeing discrimination against their transgender children. We also included, though less frequently, the voices of professional advocates who supported anti-discrimination legislation. These include university professors, counselors, physicians, and clergy.
The storytellers were advocates for equality through by ending legal discrimination. For effectiveness they must come from the jurisdiction of the legislative group. They must cover a range of ages to mirror the legislators themselves. This was brought home when one legislator was heard to say, after hearing a transgender teen, “He is just like one of my six boys. He would fit right in.”
Over time, advocates must be identified and asked for support in the legislative body. For NYCTR this was accomplished with the help of Ms. Kinsch through introductions to the Chairman of the Albany County Legislator, Shawn Morse. He in turn gained the advocacy of the Democratic leader, Frank Commisso.
The religious leaders from several Christian denominations and a well-known Rabbi were powerful. They also defused the argument that “religious people don’t support transgender anti-discrimination legislation.” None of those who oppose transgender equality where heard from.
Listen, listen, listen, and respect legislators’ concerns.
Remember who has the power: the legislator. With that in mind, there is no such thing as a dumb question that can be dismissed. Listen to understand the question and its meaning. Then repeat back what you heard. To get a wide range of understanding, NYCTR spoke with the legislators prior to the public forum, answered their questions, and if we could not, we got the answer and emailed it to them.
The most nettlesome question was, of course, about bathrooms and locker room facilities. That was a two-hour discussion, but in the end the legislator was convinced there was no issue. His advocacy in the legislature kept that issue from even arising.
Be polite. For better or worse, you are representing the entire transgender community.
Mind your manners, and thank the legislators for their attention. Email them thanks. Tell each one personally that you appreciate the attention they give you.
The result of this strategy in the Albany County Legislature?
Anti-discrimination legislation was passed unanimously.
Every Democrat and Every Republican voted to make transgender discrimination illegal in Albany County.
After the final vote, the entire legislature stood and gave those of us they’d come to know over the past few months a standing ovation.
The making of a NY State strategy for antidiscrimination legislation
For the past six years the strategy was based on demonstrations, collecting little square cards to encourage particular senators to vote for GENDA, limited radio advertising.
What has been missing is frequent personal contacts with key legislative assistants, informal get-togethers with all levels of the senate, and showing that transgender people are just part of humanity.
Also missing are any strong advocate voices within or without that might affect antidiscrimination legislation. These missing factors are what made success for same sex marriage in NY.
So what are key elements of a likely successful strategy?
Change the Message.
First change the legislative message from a focus on gender expression to supporting an end to discrimination. We have found that “discrimination” resonates across the political spectrum. Gender expression conjures up bathroom invasions, men in jockstraps, heels, and lipstick wanting into restaurants, and more along these lines. True? No. But legislative myth? Yes.
We can avoid it with talking about discrimination being just plain wrong.
Get advocates in the Assembly and Senate and work with them
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell gave a barnburner speech at the last session of the legislature. Why was he not used more? True, Assemblyman Gottfried proposes a GENDA bill every year, but he is nowhere to be seen at rallies, in the paper or on TV promoting transgender anti discrimination. He certainly is not a spokesman for transgender rights.
It is even worse in the Senate. True, Senator Squadron proposes a bill every year, but I have searched for him making public statements in support of his bill. The result? Pictures of him advocating for, say, rent control in NYC with a side bar caption that he has proposed transgender anti discrimination legislation. Senator Hoylman in public statements in support of GENDA legislation shows he thinks the LGB and T issues are exactly the same. Not too helpful.
What to do
Expose a wider group of NY State legislators to transgender people and their troubles with discrimination.
Develop advocates at the staff levels of leaders of both houses.
Gain wider public understanding of what transgender is and how discrimination has a negative effect on human lives.
While there is a high support of transgender anti discrimination legislation, there is still a sizable minority that does not and controls the GOP in their dealing with the issue. They need additional education and exposure to transgender people and their humanity.
A multi-pronged campaign by numerous organizations
In the past, Pride Agenda has controlled the message and access to various legislators. This is bad: they have a LGBT message in which the T is lost. Also, they work outside public view in many cases. Gottfried and Squadron are happy dealing only with one organization rather than having to respond to many. Ultimately unhealthy and unsuccessful.
So all the Transgender focused groups, either formal or informal, need to identify the skill set each have and select issues that play to these strengths. So what if there is some overlap. Showing the legislature that there is more than one voice in the transgender community will be powerful and have more influence.
What kinds of legislation do the NY Assembly and Senate like
In our last blog we spoke to the necessity of having an independent transgender voice that is separate from the LGB. Gender has to come to the fore and sexual orientation ignored when advocating for transgender equality under the law.
But even if we accomplish that, we need to understand the legislative preferences of the NY Legislature. We believe this past year amply demonstrates them.
What did not make it into law?
GENDA. A woman’s right of choice. Consumer protection against unexpected billing. Campaign finance reform. There were others, but these are the most glaring examples.
What they have in common
Not getting to a vote in the Senate
Not having corporate sponsors
Having massive public support
Risky to the status quo
What got into law
Casino gambling. Tax free zones for new corporations. Workman’s compensation reform for public employees. Minimum wage increases coupled with tax breaks for corporations.
What these have in common
Money for the legislators
Guaranteed campaign funds flow
Lots of lobbying events
A cost to all but the rich
So what we might say about the legislature
Money for legislators is important
Public opinion/wishes are not important
Corporate sponsors are key
Risk to individual legislators is to be avoided
If in doubt, keep the status quo
Must never offend your voting base that can primary you if you do
The legislature is not a democracy of the whole but rather a democracy of legislative districts. If an issue doesn’t fly in the district, it will not be supported.
Do you think you should add one sentence saying something like
So those in control of what goes to the floor have super power to thwart democracy or some such thing
- this may be true in all legislative bodies, but is it worse in NY??? My ignorance showing
Another year and another non-event for GENDA legislation, which would protect transgender people from legal discrimination.
Start looking inside us – the transgender people. What are we doing that is so ineffective? In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy... and he is us"
Very few in the transgender community care if the wider society is inclusive or not. Transgender people either tend to hide in organizations that protect them from that community and take refuge in the axiom that “they” don’t care about us or we blend in the more general community and leave those who can’t or don’t swinging.
Sad, because when people from the larger community meet us and gender as it relates to transgenderism is explained, they do care.
We lose when burying ourselves in what is largely a sexual orientation community and hiding under their public positions. The LGB organizations in NY threw us (Ts) under the bus many times: when they first obtained anti-discrimination protection for themselves, when they gave us up for same sex marriage, and now, their main issue is surrogate parenting.
When they present to the public, the first words are, “We are the LGBT.” And why not? These organizations were formed to advance sexual orientation politics.
When the first proposed bill to amend the Albany County Omnibus Human Rights Law was referred to the personnel committee and resistance appeared, the sponsor, Chris Higgins, said that the transgender part was not really necessary. Who had written the legislation? The Pride Agenda abd the Human Rights Commission. What did they want? A new Human Rights Commission. Not transgender protection.
Sad but true.
We contacted a Pride representative about a truly Transgender event to start organizing a campaign for transgender antidiscrimination legislation in Schenectady County. The response? We are busy getting a city resolution to support GENDA at the state level. This was a serious call for lethargy. They continued that why not join their next big event featuring queer films. Once again, the T is lost in the main purpose of the organization.
The remedy? Follow the lead of the In Our Own Voices group here in Albany. They are not our voice, but they realized that the larger LGB community was not working for them either.
Many say that we are too small a group to have impact.
When transgender people combine with natural allies, parents, non-transgender supporters, a very few people can accomplish a lot.
Example? Four months working with a core of three people, NYCTR convinced the Albany County Legislature to pass anti-discrimination legislation. Only Dems? Only GOPers? Only passed by a majority of votes?
No, transgender nondiscrimination was passed unanimously by the entire Albany County Legislature.
The history of failure under Pride Agenda leadership.
Lastly, under the Pride Agenda and the organization’s chief Albany spokesperson, GENDA has gone nowhere. Their strategy has proven to be ineffectual for six years. No progress. As a wag once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In the six years, the organizations pushing for GENDA legislation have created tepid supporters but no advocates.
What is gender? People don’t have a clue.
The message leads with gender expression. Gender is something the legislators do not understand, have misconceptions about, and generally don’t think it’s worthwhile learning anything connected with gender. But then neither does the Pride Agenda. They spend zero time trying to get people to understand gender in general and more specifically how transgender people express their gender in a variety of ways – just like the non-transgender population. Understanding gender and how humanity uses it, including us, gains new allies. New supporters. And yes, new advocates.
We now move on to the second word, expression. When coupled with gender, all kinds of negative vibes go out to many legislators and the general public. Gender expression calls forth images of guys in jock straps with beards invading women’s toilets. Ridiculous? Yes. True? We’ve heard it again and again. But, when people understand that gender contains two elements, identity and expression, resistance weakens and listening increases.
The impression is that only the person expressing a gender presentation has the right to say how society must react. Not true. Many of us take this position and find it wins no friends and influences few people. The public expression requires a partnership of the presenter and those to whom the presentation is directed. The person presenting and those by whom that person is being seen. This is true for transgender and non-transgender people alike.
The take away? If humans want to be accepted in specific social contexts, they will be judged by those in that context. Much of this judgment is based on gender presentation. Everyone does it. Transgenders, adults, kids – everyone.
Then we get to anti-discrimination – something people DO understand. But the average person never gets here. Too many negative vibes up front. And discrimination is what people really do understand and disapprove of.
Finally, even many in the transgender community stumble over GENDA, can’t explain what gender is and how transgender fits into the overall pattern of humanity.
As I said earlier, the definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results. Continuing a struggle for anti-discrimination legislation without featuring ANTI-DISCRIMINATION, without an ability to explain gender, and relying on sexual orientation-focused organizations to take the lead rather than putting transgender voices out front, in their own organizations, is insanity.
Not painting into a corner but letting off the hook
I have somewhat different perspective than Byrgen http://blog.timesunion.com/transgender/good-news-bad-news/707/
on our Meeting on 23 May.
I think people need to know who the “someone” is that we spoke with. The meeting was to be with a senior person on the GOP Majority office of Counsel and Finance. The particular job was that of senior policy and legislative advisor for the GOP majority. The individual with whom we made the appointment had responsibility for health and health care. One assumes that GENDA is just an “extra” duty and as such will not receive direct attention, if any attention at all. This fact changes the importance of the responses reported.
When probed about discrimination against transgender people, he claimed that people are protected against discrimination. If they feel discriminated against his position was to hire an attorney and sue. When confronted with the possibility that people can’t afford to do that, another shrug.
Byrgen believes that he might have been speaking only for himself when expressing negative opinions about legal protections for transgender people. He was there as a senior policy and legislative consultant to the GOP caucus. When he speaks at a meeting, gives no disclaimers about something being his personal opinion, it has to be assumed to be that of policy makers.
The Patterson comments indicate that this senior advisor sees no necessity for discrimination protection for transgender people under the law.
Byrgen has hope that this is just a start of a conversation with the GOP policy group and/or Skelos and his staff. I walk away believing that the policy group has no intention of listening and learning. And it was the Seklos office that referred our letter to the senior staff.
A final point. Members of New York Citizens for Transgender Rightss in Nassau County are trying to meet with Skelos staff – to little avail.
Does any of this sound as though they are going to put GENDA on the floor for a vote? You decide.
Moral? Vote the GOP into a minority to get anti-discrimination for transgender people to the floor of the Senate.
Thanks for the new comments about school bathrooms. I find that most of the problems are adults but very few children. Take a look at the page students get it. There are many more such stories of young people's acceptance.
I am what is called passing previelged and people ask why I clock myself. It is time to speak out and at my age, I can take abuse but we need to work to protect others, speak out, speak up, and let's push for acceptance. Not tolerance but acceptane.
If other children are uncomfortable with a transgender sharing their bathroom, why should they have to accept that situation? Despite scientific explanations that you can offer for transgeder identification, many adolescents will always find it discomforting. Why aren’t advocates for transgender acceptance more sensitive to the feelings of the vast majority of the population?
Ideally, in public settings such as schools, transgenders would be allowed to use private bathrooms. If such an arrangement is not available the transgender should be required to use the bathroom that matches the student’s gender as classified by their pediatrician.
This is somewhat disturbing. Let us change the word transgender with African American.
If other children are uncomfortable with an African American sharing their bathroom, why should they have to accept that situation? Despite scientific explanations that you can offer for African American identification, will always find it comforting. Why are't advocates for African Americans acceptance more sensitive to the feeling of the vast majority of the population?
Ideally, in public setting such as schools, African Americans would be allowed to use private bathrooms. If such an arrangement is not available the African American should be required to use the bathroom that matches the student's color.
Such a comment would be considered bigoted and illegal for African Americans. Why not for transgender people?
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