Across the land, heroic male legislators are rising up to protect the lives and virtue of women and girls from sexual predators.
They are not, as one might hope, enacting laws that would prevent men convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms, even though that would surely save precious female lives.
Nor are they working with colleges and universities to ensure fair investigations of campus sexual assault, even though this would greatly help many women.
And, alas, they aren’t doing anything to help or prod police agencies to process the backlogs of rape kits, even though this would surely put many more violent sex offenders behind bars.
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No, the state legislators – instigated mostly by Republicans – are obsessed with women’s and girls’ use of the bathroom. They’re freaked out that someone who was born male but who now identifies as female could wind up in the neighboring stall.
North Carolina is the latest state to mount this little charade of chivalry. In a special session Wednesday, with mere minutes for members to read and digest the bill’s language, the Legislature decreed that municipalities could not pass anti-discrimination laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words: People in the state must use the bathroom designated by the gender on their birth certificate.
The move is part of a broad backlash against the American public’s growing acceptance that sexual orientation and gender identity are privacy issues that deserve respect and civil rights protection. It flared up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling clearing legal obstacles to gay marriage.
When it comes to bathrooms, legislators express concern about sexual predators using more open bathroom access to attack vulnerable women and girls. Yet there is no trend of such attacks. A more honest conversation with transgender people would make that point. But honest dialogue isn’t how this is playing out – although it did play a decisive role in persuading South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto his state legislature’s bathroom bill.
What proponents can’t get over is that national attitudes have shifted rapidly in regard to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. People have by and large given LGBT people a fair hearing and have decided they deserve fair treatment.
Much of what remains of the opposition is draped with the cloak of religion. Hence the plethora of so-called religious freedom laws and amendments, whose real aims are such things as keeping homosexuals from becoming foster parents or barring transgender people from using the restroom they choose – in other words, keeping them from being accepted in society. Georgia, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas are a few of the states where such bills have been passed, executive orders have been issued, or where such measures are under consideration.
Corporate and sporting entities see the danger. The NFL has warned Georgia that it could lose the opportunity to host the Super Bowl. The NCAA has made its intolerance for legalized discrimination known to Missouri and Indiana. And companies as diverse as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Disney and MasterCard have also asserted their distaste for doing future business where these proposals may pass into law.
The companies get it. They know that “open to the public” means all of the public. No one is saying that anyone’s church must marry gay people.
Here is what proponents of the bills do not tell you: Sexual orientation and gender identity are not universally protected in America. In many cities and states, you can be fired, denied a house or an apartment simply because the boss or seller or landlord believes that you are gay.
The lack of legal protection for the LGBT people is what these disingenuous legislators are using as a basis for further deceiving constituents. They want the right to discriminate, enshrined and in many cases codified as a religious right, even when they are operating in a public square.
That’s what is most offensive – invoking God as a pretext.
Those who stood for slavery and against civil rights tried that ploy. Proponents of the anti-LGBT measures don’t like the comparison, but the shoe fits.
Ratcheting up fears in response to social change and then claiming that it’s your religious right to discriminate is an old trick. Alongside housing covenants, bank red-lining, scare tactics about crime, including sexual assault by black men, these arguments were shamefully hypocritical. These are old songs, with new refrains.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.