Society grows, adjusts, and absorbs each new experience into its vernacular, although it has to be occasionally reinforced if it's to be kept from being forgotten. And by accepting the repeated expression of individuality of others, society grows less threatened by any one individual.
This is part of what has been happening with transgender and transsexual communities, and we see it in sharp focus in the “bathroom predator” meme that has been taking place in recent months. Panic about the possibility of transsexual women using the same public washroom as someone's wife, daughter, girlfriend, etc. has been used to oppose legislation that would protect transsexual and transgender people — and gay, lesbian and bisexual folks — frequently in recent years, even if the legislation in question said nothing at all about restrooms. Panic sometimes used successfully.
But the fearmongering that this argument has been able to achieve has also started to wane. Society is largely coming to terms with the reality that with over 130 pieces of similar legislation — some dating back to the 1970s — this fear has never been realized, and there is no quantifiable evidence to connect LGBT people to predatory behaviour in public washrooms. Sometimes the naysayers will find some predatory washroom incident to point to as “proof,” but inevitably it becomes obvious that sexual orientation or gender identity were not part of the equation at all.
The City of Missoula, Montana has proposed an ordinance which would protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation. It is scheduled for public hearing on April 12. With Montana being near and socially similar in a number of ways to Alberta, I've been watching events closely.
A coalition calling itself NotMyBathroom.com has been responding with distortions about the ordinance:
“… great expense for businesses to provide toilet facilities…”
(the only places in the proposed ordinance calling for expense with regards to toilet facilities pertains to ensuring physical accessibility for the disabled. In fact, in their FAQ, they say that they “would be willing to work with the city to make sure there were single stalls in the city in sufficient numbers to address any concerns or discomfort of the transgender population,” so they're obviously not truly worried about expense)
“… peril of lawsuits and loss of business licenses…”
(which no one would see as legitimate grounds for decriminalizing harassment or discrimination leveled against any other group of people)
“… could also force ministers to perform homosexual marriages…”
(there's nothing in the ordinance about that at all, and where same-sex marriage exists, there are almost always concessions written to allow ministers and churches to opt out — which still might not be right, but is what invariably happens)
“… Missoula’s taxpayers will probably find themselves paying large attorney fees and court costs when this unconstitutional ordinance is challenged….”
(they never explain how they feel that mandating equal treatment of people constitutes “unconstitutional,” especially considering that it is constitutional when applied to other groups like race, disability and religion)
“… This could also force the Boy Scouts of America to have homosexual Boy Scout leaders and force them to allow girls to be part of the troops – even though the US Supreme Court has ruled against these requirements….”
(um, last time I checked, Supreme Court rulings trumped civic ordinances, so they just defused their own argument here)
“… No one should assume that we think all homosexual men are child molesters, far from it. However the problem with molestation in the Catholic Church stemmed from the fact that homosexuals were allowed to be Priests. The Boy Scouts of America allowed homosexual men to be Scout Masters and had the same high incident of molestations. Since both organizations have stopped that practice the number of molestations has dropped considerably, to a fraction or what it was before…”
(so “we're not saying there's a connection, but there's a connection?” In reality, the facts about child molestation say otherwise, but we don't seek to ban all heterosexuals from washrooms)
As we look through the rhetoric of NotMyBathroom and other potty mouthers, it becomes obvious that the intent is to exploit peoples' lack of understanding in order to conflate the misconceptions about homosexuals (men who are attracted to men), transsexuals (not named in the above quotes but usually the visual representation held up in this fearmongering, and who are people of either birth sex who identify as the opposite gender and can be of any orientation), pedophiles (people of various orientations and genders who are attracted to children) and sexual predators (often but not always men stalking women) into one confused mishmash of fear.
Fortunately, the NotMyBathroom people provide a link to the ordinance, where people can read it for themselves and discover that these fears and many more are completely unsound.
Times change. When fed the same repetitious and unfounded doom stories only to see nothing of the sort materialize as claimed, people do grow wise to the lies. It happened with the “black people have no souls” myth, or the one about allowing women to drive causing endless pandemonium and death on our streets. It happened regarding qualms about interracial marriage and to allegations that left-handedness was a sign of possession by the devil. It happened in Canada regarding same-sex marriage, and will eventually do similarly elsewhere.
And it is happening with regard to the bathroom panic in Missoula, Montana. Even the right is refusing to buy into the straw man argument. In a panel hosted by Forward Montana and featuring a Wyoming Republican, a pastor, a veteran and a past chairman of the Montana College Republicans, the latter stated in support of LGBT protections: “I cannot believe we're fighting issues like this in 2010.” And although members of CrossPoint Community Church and senior pastor Dr. Bruce Speer disrupted a meeting of community religious leaders who came together to express support for the ordinance, the affirming leaders soldiered on, forming Flush the Fear, which declares:
“All people should be free from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Faith communities value dignity, fairness, diversity, and justice, and we know our strength as a community is based on treating each other fairly and with respect. Our group will be a strong and peaceful voice for the full inclusion of the LGBT community in non-discrimination policy.”
Womens' groups have also signed on in support. From the Missoulian:
The YWCA of Missoula was among the organizations signing a letter of support sent Tuesday to the Missoula City Council. Other supporters are Montana Women Vote, Women's Resource Center, Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Blue Mountain Clinic, NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, Planned Parenthood of Montana, Women's Opportunity and Resource Development Inc., and American Association of University Women-Montana.
Of course, disinformation doesn't easily dissipate on its own, and the folks at the Montana Human Rights Network, Forward Montana and Flush the Fear have been working diligently to get the truth out. They could probably use some support if you're able.
And meanwhile, perhaps it's time that the folks working on ENDA and similar legislation keep this in mind when they're tempted to concede to irrational scaremongering.
(Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes)