In Gainesville, Florida, a protective measure passed last year that allows transgender people to use both male and female restrooms as to their own identified gender has come under attack in a hard-hitting TV ad campaign.
Commissioners voted a 4-3 majority on the provision which was added to the city’s anti-discrimination law in 2008 and allowed Gainseville’s one hundred transgender residents to pick whichever facility they felt better about using.
Opponents to the measure will have their chance to repeal the measure on the 24th of March when it will go to a referendum ballot after a group of conservatives called the Citizens for Good Public Policy gathered enough signatures to appeal the measure. However, their attacks, which come in a usually gay friendly city, have already begun with a sinister television ad.
The Content of the Anti-Transgender Access Ad
A normal day. A run-of-the-mill playground, and a blond little girl who heads off toward the lady’s restroom. Outside an unshaven, baseball cap-wearing man watches the girl enter and then walks in some time after her. A caption is then run across the screen: “On January 28th 2008 Your City Commission Made This Legal.”
It is unclear, exactly, what the campaign is saying. The man going into the toilets certainly didn’t look like your average transgender person to me. In fact, if anything, he looked like a washed up baseball player, but let us not quibble over casting. The seeming implication to the Citizens for Good Public Policy video is that, in allowing a transgender person to use the facilities of either sex, you have made children vulnerable to sexual predators.
It isn’t much of a leap to consider that they are also implying that transgender people themselves could be the aforementioned sexual predators, and whilst the ad isn’t implicit in this statement, it certainly doesn’t do anything to dissuade from this position either.
Since the provision came into effect, there have been no such reported incidents. However, opponents have said that, whilst the rights of transgender people to use whichever restroom they feel represents them have been increased, the rights of a child to be protected have been reduced.
‘You are trying to operate in a realm you do not have the authority to operate in,” George Brantley, pastor, told the Commission, as slogans and street campaigners have started brandishing signs saying “Keep men out of women’s toilets.”
Cain Davis, the chairman of Citizens for Good Public Policy, said, “We know when men go into women’s restrooms, bad things can happen,” and that it was his groups duty to protect people from a “government gone wild”.
Spokespeople for the Commission say that the ad has “grossly distorted” the measure.
The Wording of the Transgender Measure
The measure separates the ideas of “gender identity” and “gender”, giving it its own protective class. A draft version of the ordinance was seen to define gender identity as:
“…an inner sense of being a specific gender, or the expression of a gender identity by verbal statement, appearance, or mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”
How one could possibly enforce this measure and the necessitated vagueness of its criteria seems difficult at best, and this plays into the hands of organizations like Citizens for Good Public Policy, because, as much as it does protect the rights of transgender people, it does, at least partially, create a legal minefield and opportunities for abuse.
Many transgender people have responded desperately to this debate, just wanting a place to relieve themselves without threat of violence or abuse, whilst some continue to avoid public restrooms altogether with this fear very much at the forefront of their minds.