North Carolina’s LGBT-rights reversal is the latest setback caused by the toxic “transgender bathroom rights” wedge issue that LGBT advocates are proving to be stunningly tone deaf at battling.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, the mainstream LGBT rights movement has made trans rights the issue of the moment (I suspect) partially to maintain relevance in a “what now?” era for LGBTs. The right for transgender people to use public bathroom facilities that correspond to their gender identity has become the issue, and it’s freaking some conservatives all the way out.
The bogeyman spectre of men dressing in women’s clothes and claiming a transgender identity to assault women and girls has proved so potent that North Carolina lawmakers spent $42,000 of taxpayers’ money to hold a special session that effectively nullifies a local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance that was passed in Charlotte, and bars any other cities from passing ordinances of their own.
Conservatives outraged about the bathroom issue also brought down an equal rights ordinance in Houston, leaving citizens of that city with zero protections against discrimination based on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.
In the face of multiple defeats, you’d think the response from leaders and those in the LGBT community would be to engage a full-scale public relations campaign to educate everyone about the absurdly high rates of violence that some trans people face when trying to live their lives. But…no.
To combat the opponents in Houston, local LGBT rights activists brought in actress Sally Field to speak at a rally. Her brilliant quote about the resistance to the bill?
“It’s a lie. It’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie. That’s all you can say.”
Well, if Sally Field says so, then it must be true! Unfortunately, Aunt May just couldn’t get the job done, and even the most pedestrian google search will prove that in some rare occasions someone does try to push the limits of the rulings. When LGBT advocates lost the Houston battle, the LGBT Program Director for Media Matters blamed Beyonce for not speaking out about it. Seriously.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin was equally tone deaf in his approach. As The Advocate columnist Kerry Eleveld put it:
Chad Griffin, president of HRC, suggested in several different interviews that if only the local TV stations that ran the opposition’s deplorable “No men in women’s bathrooms” ads had rejected them instead, we somehow could have avoided disaster. If that’s one of the big takeaways of our lead organization on how to combat what’s emerging as the homophobes’ next line of attack, we are in real trouble.
So Griffin’s big takeaway on such a stunning loss is to blame local news stations for selling ad space? Houston, we have a problem. The question of how to effectively educate the masses about transgender people and hear their concerns without being perceived as shoving an “agenda” down their throats is one that has not come close to being answered by any of the “leaders” in the LGBT community.
Instead, they choose to do their work the easy way, via using mainstream media and a continued over reliance on celebrities to get the point across instead of the hard way – actually engaging with communities that have concerns about the issue, and finding a path to assuage those concerns.
It probably isn’t the best move to say that people are genuinely concerned about the comfort level of their wives and daughters (not to mention women concerned about their personal safety in a way that, as a man, I can never fully understand) “bigots” because the prospect of trans people in those spaces makes them uncomfortable. You don’t win these types of battles by shouting down the concerns of anyone who disagrees with you.
A measured approach that includes the voices of transgender people expressing their fears, real statistics to combat any fear-mongering from the opposition, and open dialogue with local advocates, not Hollywood celebrities flown in for rallies, will be key.
If LGBT advocates fail to do this and instead rely on the same old celebrity-focused approach, those who oppose LGBT rights in other states will be emboldened by the “victories” in Houston and North Carolina. For the rest of the LGBT community, the next great battle for our rights will be simply trying to hold on to the ones we already have.
Rob Smith is an openly gay Iraq war veteran, journalist, and author of the #1 bestseller Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming Of Age As A Gay Man In The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Army, which is the recipient of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award for LGBT Nonfiction and a nominee for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Memoir.
He is a contributing writer for Queerty.com, a video journalist for Zazoom Media Group, and co-anchors Bold Blend with Bold founder Carrie Sheffield and former Bloomberg TV anchor Adam Johnson. He holds a M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.
How Bold is Bold for me to say, grown some ballz, or titz and quit acting like a bitche?