By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Last year, Time Magazine said we had reached the "Transgender tipping point." Since then, Olympic hero Caitlyn Jenner has joined other high-profile transgender celebrities such as Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Laura Jane Grace and others. The visibility of transgender people in the mainstream media has never been higher.
In spite of all the visibility, however, one topic dominates transgender issues more than any celebrity: bathrooms. I've talked about bathrooms a lot, so much so that I'm really not sure I have much new to say.
In Houston, Texas, the referendum on their equal rights ordinance, HERO, failed. The bill covered a total of 15 protected classes against bias in several categories. It failed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. Once again, the adage that you should never allow a vote on minority rights rings true. Such a struggle almost always fails.
Everyone is now busy trying to figure out why it lost, and laying blame all over the place. Even unfairly at the feet of the black community, or celebrities such as Beyonce.
I don't think you can so easily claim that this or that group did not do enough. While I think a lot of LGBT groups could have done more — it failed because the "other side" dominated discussion. They did so by using the "bathroom meme," claiming that this bill would somehow allow predators to be allowed to go into changing rooms and restrooms and victimize your wife or children.
Televisions and radios played commercials making the above claim, and T-shirts on opponents to HERO declared, "No Men in Women's Bathrooms. Vote NO on Houston's Prop #1." Few seemed to know what the bill actually covered, only believing it was only about men in women's rooms. This is how well the opposition controlled the dialogue.
As I've already said, I don't want to talk about bathrooms anymore. I feel like I've made it as clear as I can that rights for transgender people do not lead to predators in women's rooms. The facts back it up: there have been no cases of assault in any city where these rights have been given. These bills do not repeal any sexual assault laws. It's ludicrous.
You cannot, however, appeal to facts when it comes to arguments claiming people dear to you will be victimized, and you will have no recourse. As ridiculous as the argument is, for many it seems to trip a primal trigger. They go against logic, seeking only to defend what they find precious.
What the transgender community needs right now is an emotional argument that helps those so triggered to stand down, to feel their loved ones are safe and protected — and are safer with transgender protections in place.
With the loss of HERO we will see more of these fights against transgender rights crop up, especially in a presidential election year, when conservatives want to get out the vote. This too is akin to what went down with Proposition 8 and other anti-marriage bills. This is exactly why conservative groups seem to be heavily invested in culture wars: it gets people out to vote for their candidates as they pull the lever against us.
Speaking of the presidential race: presidential candidate Ben Carson also chimed in on HERO, for what it's worth. "It is not fair for (transgender people) to make everybody else uncomfortable," Carson said. "It's one of the things that I don't particularly like about the movement." This man is one of the top GOP picks at current, which should scare you.
I can't help but ask who else has "made everybody else uncomfortable" in the bathroom. As I've said before, every rights battle seems to have its bathroom moment. Heck, the same arguments were used with race segregated bathrooms as well as the Equal Rights Amendment battle of the 1970s.
I got talking about bathrooms again, didn't I? Enough about them: here's what I really want to talk about.
In this country, since Nov. 20, 2014, 22 transgender people have been reported killed due to anti-transgender violence. They — and the likely hundreds more killed worldwide — will be honored this Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance. This will be the 17th annual TDOR observance.
The number of deaths are higher than years past, though I can't tell you for sure if they're higher because we're paying more attention, or because there are more transpeople being killed. My gut tells me that it's a bit of both.
Many have claimed that visibility of Caitlyn Jenner and others that make up "The Transgender Tipping point" are indirectly responsible for the increase in murders. This, to me, feels a bit like claiming Beyonce not speaking out in support led to the loss of HERO.
For me, though, I can't help but look at the people fighting bills in Houston and elsewhere. How can you expect to tell people about how giving rights to transgender people will allow sexual deviants to harm your family and not expect people to react? As I said above, that was the whole point of the bathroom meme.
Some may defend their loved ones by voting, but others do so by grabbing a weapon. Like Ben Carson, some people are uncomfortable — and with their religious and political leaders attacking transgender people, they might feel equally at ease doing so.
Transgender people are being cast as the enemy of decency, as something to fear, something to feel uncomfortable about. It's not that much a step from this sort of vilification to people seeking to kill us.
HERO, bathrooms and these attacks on transgender people are just the tip, and the stakes are higher than ever before.