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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Equal rights: It's always about the bathroom

Posted By on Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 11:58 AM

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For 41 years, ever since I've been in Arkansas, the forces of discrimination have fought equal rights with the fear that a man might enter a woman's restroom. Or that, gasp, we might see unisex facilities in our land. Gasp, we do have some. And they work just fine, with latches for privacy and such.

When I trucked my daughter off to college in 1997, I moved her into a dorm where men and women shared restrooms on the same floor. 17 years ago. And I don't think it was new then.

This was was a critical component of the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment back in the '70s, but the oldie is still a goodie. The Religious Right haters at the Family Council keep it alive today as a leading argument against equal rights for gay people. You'll find it here in the Family Council brief against the civil rights ordinance being considered by the Fayetteville City Council, which will embrace equality for gay and transgender people as well as for men and women, the elderly, the religious and non-religious, the able and disabled, the white and the black, the native and the immigrant.

It's really simple: The Family Council wants legal protection for discrimination against gay people in housing, employment and public accommodation. They say it's a matter of religion to discriminate against these people. You know. The Bible says love th y neighbor unless he's queer. And if others want to discriminate out of custom, ignorance or sheer meanness, well they should be protected, too. A gay person's  cooties might be catching, after all.

These good Christians are waging a battle against Fayetteville's historic pursuit of civil rights for all. 

Happily, Matthew Petty, the council member who's sponsoring the measure, is unafraid. Not that facts matter where fear and bigotry stalk the land, but .....

Here's a full rebuttal of the nonsense arguments raised by the Family Council.
For the record: About those bathrooms — says the Family Council:

The ordinance inadvertently allows men to use women’s restrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas. The ordinance says you cannot treat someone differently because of their gender identity, but it does not address public restrooms. By protecting gender identity without including exceptions for public restrooms and similar facilities, the ordinance permits a biological male who claims to be female to use the women’s restroom at any business or public site.

Nothing in this ordinance — nothing — makes it illegal to provide separate facilities for men and women or "allows" men to enter women's areas. If that were so, existing federal civil rights law would require it. But, yes, there is the matter of the tiny, tiny minority where gender identity is an issue that so discombobulates the haters.

Says the memo from City Attorney Kit Williams's office responding to a letter from a Jonesboro lawyer bearing a similar alarm to the Family Council talking points:

The claim that this ordinance would provide predators with access to women's restrooms in order to assault or leer at girls or women is nothing more than fear-mongering. This ordinance does allow transgender people to use the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable and physically safe. Transgender people — who are far more likely to be the victims of harassment and violence if forced to use a bathroom that is inconsistent with their gender identity or expression — deserve to have the ability to use the bathroom in peace and safety. Using the bathroom is a basic human function and denying that to a person is inhumane. This ordinance has nothing to do with the concerns and examples Ms. Nichols provided — the acts perpetrated by the criminals in those stories will continue to be criminal acts.

NOTED: The Fayetteville Council, eight members and a mayor who breaks ties, will vote on the ordinance Aug. 19. It's believed to have sufficient support to pass. Then the real fight begins. The good Christians will petition for a referendum to overturn it. They succeeded with a referendum in 1998 on a human dignity ordinance that provided for equal treatment solely within city government. That vote came at a special election. The hope is that attitudes have changed significantly. We shall see.

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