Discussions around the ordinance proposal called HERO have been so intense that you'd think they were giving out free passes to the Super Bowl the way people were crowding City Hall on Tuesday. Now that a final vote by city council has been pushed back yet again, more intense testimony is expected in two weeks.
While there's no shock in what the supporters of HERO want (equal treatment from city businesses and protections for various groups, particularly gays and transgender folks), the opposing side is still worried about the possibility that the public won't be able to handle transgender people having the right to choose their own restrooms, and a fear of pedophiles has become part of the argument.
Gender identity and bathroom use have become the biggest issue of the debate, so much so that a proposed amendment to the ordinance segment dealing with gender and bathroom use was tagged for more time to work on it. But that aspect of the debate is nothing new, since several municipalities and states across the country have engaged in similar dialogue about laws affecting the transgender community.
Non-discrimination legislation for transgender people became known as the "Bathroom Bill" in Maryland.
Michael Kubosh, a Houston at-large city councilman, was partially correct when he told the conservative website Breitbart Texas all this back-and-forth over gender and bathroom use was a waste of time. "With all the problems we have in city government, here we are laboring over who goes to the restroom." But he immediately stated exactly why this discussion was necessary in Houston. "What does worry me is showers were mentioned. If a person is transitioning and coming out, are they going to go into the women's shower with the women, even though they are genetically still a man? This is greatly confusing to the public, and you and I both know we just couldn't tolerate that."
You know, we wondered about that, too. So we consulted the female-to-male transitioning guide ftmguide.org. What we learned was that going through a gender switch is uncomfortable enough when you're dealing with the rest of society and public facilities are the final frontier.
According to the site:
Another matter to consider when making the switch to the men's locker room is personal safety. It is a good idea to try to assess the risks of being discovered as transsexual in the specific locker room your considering. In most health clubs and gyms, the men who are changing in the locker room are most likely focused on going about their business, and they will probably not notice or care very much if you are a transsexual. However, in some sports team locker room situations, as well as school locker situations, the pressure to fit certain social and gender norms can be heightened, and the possible retaliation to differences is greater. If you do not feel safe in any locker room setting, walk away from it, either temporarily until you feel it is safer, or permanently. You can always change or shower later or at home.
In many ways, what the ordinance would do is add another layer of protection to this whole bathroom/public shower deal. Even though the transgender population in the city is only 2 percent, according to District D Councilman Dwight Boykins (another opponent of the proposal's section on gender and bathrooms), there are members of that group who deal with a lot just to take a pee, as the website goes on to explain:
It should be noted that if you are not yet being read as male on a regular basis, and/or if you are not feeling confident or safe about using the men's room in any situation, it may be best to find another bathroom arrangement. Most men's restrooms are not dangerous places, but in some circumstances, it may be wise to avoid potential trouble. If you are experiencing such issues around restroom use, you may want to seek out a single-stall bathroom when possible, or wait for either the men's or the women's room to empty out (whichever is safer and more appropriate for the situation), use the facilities quickly, and move on. In many situations, using the men's room will be perfectly safe-- it just pays to use caution when necessary.
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"I don't think the transgender situation was vetted properly," Boykins told us. "When this thing came out, the notion of change came from creating an ordinance that would allow same-sex couples the same rights, but then somehow the transgender part got thrown in front of it. It's unfair to the transgender community to get thrown around like that for politics," he said. He added that people in the community were worried about pedophiles taking advantage of an open-bathroom policy and "causing problems."
Boykins stressed that more input from local community groups was needed and that his prime objective in the matter was to end discrimination.
"A lot of people in my community are really feeling hurt by what happened today," Monica Roberts of the Black Trans Woman Network told KPRC. "It really offends me that the haters won today."
The next chance for the council to vote on the equal rights proposal is May 28.