Lawmakers fundamentally misunderstand transgender community


Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

At a wedding last October, every time my friend needed to use the restroom, she came up behind me and whispered for me to come with her. I would stand outside the stall, arms crossed, ready to defend her if anyone saw reason to protest a transgender woman using the women’s restroom. My being there was the only thing that made her feel safe.

Every transgender person I know has a story — they’ve been yelled at, insulted, chased out of the bathroom by angry women with swinging purses and angry men with puffed-out chests. Going to the restroom shouldn’t be difficult, but American lawmakers continue to make the complicated process of transitioning that much harder.

In late February, Harris County-based Texas House Representative Debbie Riddle introduced two bills, H.B. 1747 and 1748. H.B. 1747 that would amend Texas’ definition of “disorderly conduct” to include individuals who “(enter) a public restroom that is designated by a sign for members of the opposite sex of the actor.” The law defines sex, in this case, as the sex designation on a person’s driver’s license or state ID.

H.B. 1748 goes on to classify that a person over the age of 13 entering a locker room, shower or toilet that is not designated for their assigned gender is a Class A misdemeanor — which can result in up to a year in jail or a $4,000 fine. The bills, if passed, would take effect Sept. 1.

For every step forward, like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that was signed in to law last year, lawmakers take a step back and try to push forward with bills and laws that would inhibit transgender individuals from expressing their gender identity. The rationale is always the same — lawmakers say there’s risk of men using women’s restrooms and locker rooms as an excuse to assault women and children.

This is despite the fact that it’s usually the opposite – transgender people are overwhelmingly likely to suffer harassment at the workplace, in school and in restrooms.

UH Law Center professor Peter Linzer said that courts will likely draw the legal line of whether a person will be acknowledged by their gender when that legal sex change is made – and that’s a progressive statement in of itself.

“If someone calls the cops and says, ‘Hey, there’s a man in the ladies’ room,’ and you find someone who’s wearing slacks, seems to have some breast development, in most ways appears to be a man and (has) a driver’s license (saying) it’s male, then the cops will make a decision,” Linzer said.

Most Texas courts do not allow an individual to change their sex on their driver’s license without having first had sexual reassignment surgery, or SRS. SRS is expensive, usually costing in the tens of thousands of dollars, and many transgender people aren’t even interested in it.

It’s a poor way to determine whether an individual really is transgender and isn’t trying to commit fraud by having their sex changed — something that could easily be determined by a note from a licensed psychiatrist, which is used to approve transgender individuals for hormone therapy and surgery.

One of the only comments Riddle has made on her bills is from a Jan. 13 Facebook post, where she said that during this legislative session she would “protect women and children from going into a ladies’ restroom and finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.” Commentators on the post weren’t happy.

Riddle’s rationale is unusually absurd, as she seems to be under the impression that men regularly walk into the women’s restroom and say that they’re a woman to get away with it. But the problem sure didn’t start with her, and it’s not going to end any time soon.

Lawmakers are continuing to prove that they do not have the fundamental facts of what being transgender means, which is a problem when they make laws that affect the transgender community.

For every Defense of Marriage Act that is struck down and every progress that is made to LGBT equality, there’s another law passed that ensures gay and transgender people are allowed to be discriminated against. Last Tuesday, the Alabama Supreme Court halted same-sex marriage license issued in the state, despite the ruling that should technically allow it.

The United States Supreme Court is supposed to discuss same-sex marriage this term, but the debate isn’t going to end there. Homelessness, health, discrimination and hate crimes are still a fundamental problem in the LGBT community, but they cannot be discussed if straight, cisgender lawmakers continue to display a fundamental misunderstanding of the community.

Opinion columnist Laura Gillespie is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]


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