by Bruce Dunlavy              (My blog home page and index of other posts may be found here.)

State legislatures are in a tizzy.  Most of them have terrible budget problems, with financial issues ranging from crumbling infrastructure to crises in education funding to civil service pension liabilities.  As these problems are exacerbated by declining revenue resulting primarily from unwarranted tax cuts, the bullet-biting required to solve them has been found politically unapproachable. So legislators have decided to do something about other “problems” instead.

What elected officials have done is to deflect attention away from the hard decisions  responsible governance requires by inventing solutions to problems that don’t exist (e.g., voter fraud), enacting any new gun-freedom law that anyone suggests (e.g., the right to carry firearms in churches, bars, or anywhere else), and finding convoluted ways to defend Christians from having to behave – well, like Christians.

These laws include guarantees of the right to private prayer in schools (which was never under attack), the posting of the Ten Commandments anywhere and everywhere, designating the Bible as the official State Book, and allowing both public servants and private businesses providing public accommodations to refuse to serve the public if their “firmly-held religious beliefs” disagree with public laws.

The most curious – and currently the most notorious – of these manifestations is the introduction of so-called “bathroom laws.”  North Carolina’s House Bill 2 is the salient case, in that it has resulted in national attention (and not in a good way) as well as the withdrawal of business activities from the State.

The North Carolina law is pretty straightforward.  It requires that every person using public facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, etc., use facilities with a gender designation that matches the person’s sex as stated on his/her birth certificate.  The law goes on to prohibit any municipality or other local government from enacting any law that would allow anything different from the State statute.

Let’s get one thing clear right from the start: “bathroom laws” are not about bathrooms.  It is easy to demonstrate this by showing how such laws are not only needless and pointless, but also unenforceable.

How would such a law be administered? Will citizens be required to carry their birth certificate at all times to ensure that they may use a publicly-available rest room?  Will the State hire Gender Police to check that document against a person’s State-issued ID card?  Or will a pre-qualification be available whereby one can obtain a Restroom Identity Pass?  What about birth certificates from jurisdictions (Germany is one) that recognize three gender designations at birth: male, female, and indeterminate?

Beyond the ridiculous spectacle of trying to enforce such laws, examining the arguments made to justify them exposes their emptiness. These arguments, fulsomely expressed by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, include:

“I have a right to feel comfortable in a restroom/locker room/etc., and my right to feel comfortable trumps anyone else’s right to interfere with my comfort.”  This is the same argument that was used to defend racially segregated facilities half a century ago.  It was not valid then, and it’s not valid now.  In any case, trans people have been using “the other bathroom” for decades and nobody has noticed.

“Without these laws, little girls in public restrooms will be easy prey for pedophiles who could just dress up as women and claim they are transgender.”  Child molesting is already against the law.  Since there has never been a law such as House Bill 2 before, and men dressed as women invading female-designated restrooms has not been a problem, what situation is the law designed to change?   Trans people have been in the bathrooms of their personal preference for as long as there have been trans people, and they do not have a history of attacking children.  The lack of a “bathroom law” does not make anything any easier for pedophiles.

“Allowing transgender women into female restrooms endangers the ‘truly’ female occupants.”  A transgender woman attacking another occupant of a female facility is virtually unheard of.  Laws such as House Bill 2 would, in fact, directly endanger far more people.  The group most likely to be assaulted – in a restroom or on the street – is trans women, and forcing them into restrooms or locker rooms full of men puts them at great risk of physical harm.  Nobody is more in danger of being assaulted in a public restroom (or anywhere else) than a trans woman. Thus the law would provoke more victimizations, not fewer.

In addition, the law would no doubt cause some consternation among North Carolina’s genteel ladies should they find someone such as female-to-male trans bodybuilder Shawn Stinson (shown in the photograph below) entering their restroom, as he would be required to do under the law.  Who’s uncomfortable now?
SHAWN STINSON – Image credit:

Beyond that, such laws will be expensive for already hard-pressed State budgets, considering that the States will surely have to defend them in court – probably unsuccessfully – against charges that they are unconstitutional.

The law is obviously unenforceable, and it does not take away any privileges, rights, or opportunities for pedophiles than those that already existed.  Moreover, it does not add to anyone’s safety, but in fact creates a more dangerous situation for trans women (and, to a lesser extent, trans men, by adding government approval to their denigration).

If such laws are unenforceable and ineffective, what is the purpose of them?  Why pass an unenforceable, ineffective law that does nothing to eliminate opportunities for one kind of crime while it enhances opportunities for another kind of crime?

The answer, of course, is that when it comes to such laws, it’s not about bathrooms.  It’s not about bathrooms any more than Jim Crow laws were about bathrooms – or drinking fountains, swimming pools, and bus seats.  It’s about demeaning a certain class of people by the imposition of official opprobrium.  It’s about the majority imposing its will on the minority just because they can.  It’s about a last-ditch, rear-guard holding action by the heirs of the segregationists to prevent progress in equality, understanding, and tolerance.

It is a sad commentary on American governance that, while children are being poisoned by the water they drink, while the deterioration of roads and bridges endangers everyone, while needed government services are slashed to the point that basic public needs are not satisfied, State legislators have chosen to score culture-war points by wasting time, money, and opportunity on worthless gestures that serve only to distract attention from their failures.