In this two part investigative article, Walter Beck looks at the Arizona bill that would make it illegal to use a toilet not designated for the same sex that is on your birth certificate.
While the rest of the country was in throes of the fight for marriage equality as the oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor played out at the Supreme Court, there was a more fundamental fight going on out in Arizona. It was the fight against SB 1432, which would make it a misdemeanor for a transgender person to use a restroom for a gender other than their birth one. As subsection B of the proposed bill reads:
A person commits disorderly conduct if the person intentionally enters a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room and a sign indicates that the room is for the exclusive use of persons of one sex and the person is not legally classified on the person’s birth certificate as a member of that sex.
Before the ink was even dry on proposal from Representative John Kavanagh, there was a backlash brewing as the transgender community and their allies began a very visible outcry. According to activist and media rep Sean-Michael Gettys, it went down like this:
“In just over twenty-four hours of finding out SB 1432 was being pushed through, Arizonans rallied together, got the word out about what was happening, and there was a pretty huge outpouring of support not only from locals but all over the world. What surprised Rep. Kavanagh I’m sure was the amount of conservative people who wrote in and actually attended the SB 1432 hearing in order to speak out about the over-reaching of government, unnecessary laws, and wasting tax payer money. He did state in the 1045 hearing that he was moved by so many of his conservative constituents speaking out and reminding him that he’s supposed to be against over-reaching government policies. Sadly he just replaced one over reaching policy with another, but in wording that confuses many people.”
Kavanagh then amended the bill, proposing the following amendment to SB 1045, which reads as follows:
A. The regulation of access to privacy areas in places of public accommodation based on gender identity or expression is of statewide concern and is not subject to further regulation by a county, city, town, or other political subdivision of this state.
B. A county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state shall not enact or enforce an ordinance or policy that requires a person or business to regulate access to privacy areas of based on gender identity or expression.
C. No person or business shall be civilly or criminally liable for denying access to privacy areas based on gender identity or expression.
D. This section does not prohibit a person or business from allowing access to privacy areas based on gender identity or expression.
E. Any ordinance or policy that relates to access to privacy areas based on gender identity or expression that is inconsistent with this section is void and of no force or effect.
F. For the purposes of this section:
1. “Gender identity or expression” means either:
a. An individual’s self-identification as male, female or something in between and includes an individual’s appearance, mannerisms or other characteristics only insofar as they relate to gender with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.
b. Any other substantially similar self-identification of gender.
2. “Privacy Areas” means areas in places of public accommodation where access is restricted based on sex, including a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room.
The language here may read a bit softer, but the results are still the same. Trans people will be forced to show ID and if a business refuses them access to the proper restroom there will be no consequences for that business.
When I went looking for answers as to why this bill was even being considered (personally, I always thought the question of the Freedom to Piss had been settled during the Civil Rights Movement), I unearthed the usual plethora of fear mongering and bullshit, trying to “protect” women against potential rapists, “protecting children” from weirdoes and pedophiles, and of course the long standing whine of “preventing those people from shoving their lifestyle down my throat”.
The potential damage is even deeper than the question of being able to use a public facility without harassment. If passed, the amendment would make null and void any ordinance passed that includes protections for the Trans community. Several cities in Arizona have passed such ordinances. Tucson’s, according to my sources, has been on the books since 1999, and it would cease to be in effect should this bill pass.
One man in power in the state of Arizona is trying to undermine any progress the community has made. He is effectively trying to make nearly stateless people, aliens in their own homes.
The response hasn’t been quiet, according to Arizona activist Ira Bohm-Sanchez. There have been two rallies thus far, one before the vote, and one after the vote. And there is currently a third demonstration planned at the state capitol building as I write this article.
According to a Washington Post article, there were nearly 200 people at a rally when the vote was taking place, all of them chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”.
My sources have also confirmed these high numbers. According to Gettys, hundreds have shown up for the hearings, and the meetings have been “standing room only”.
SB1045 Hearing – photograph by Laurie Provost
Activist Phoenix Berliner attended one of the hearings for the bill.
“When our moment came at last, I sat and watched as person after person took to the podium to present the sad statistics of our community, their personal stories of being attacked or fearing for their loved ones, the tearful pleas of good everyday people, like you and me, several of which I’ve come to know personally. More loved ones, whose safety I would be worrying about on a daily basis if violence and harassment wasn’t such a common thing in our community that I’ve been partially desensitized to it, were sitting on pins and needles at home, wondering why hours had passed and they still hadn’t heard the results. That is a big part of why I was there. I have to worry about my loved ones, and myself as a trans guy, every single time any of us goes out into public, because discrimination against us is so common and accepted still. This bill is evidence of exactly how acceptable some people still consider that discrimination to be.
Only one person spoke out for the bill, someone who had been there to speak on an earlier bill, which would allow teachers with only 40 hours of training to carry concealed weapons in schools. That bill also passed, by the way. As person after person testified, the Representatives were obviously split along the party line. The Democrats sat on one side of Kavanagh and the Republicans on the other. The body language said that the Democrats were listening and learning and were empathetic. That of the Republicans was one of the clearest pictures of willful ignorance I’ve seen. They sat back away from desks, arms crossed, some looking half asleep. When this was pointed out, the excuse was given that it had been a long day. Several of us laughed, as we have not slept easy in over a week, now, with trying to organize the opposition to these two bills and with being personally affected by it.
There has already been an increase in calls to crisis lines, since SB1432 was announced. There has been an increase in bathroom harassment involving our youth in schools. Eventually, the speaking stopped. I don’t think that everyone spoke who had signed up for it. Everyone was tired and we wanted to know where we stood, so we could get on to organizing our next fight. I had been prepped to expect us to lose this battle in our war and I had been trying to keep people calm and professional throughout, hushing emotional reactions, of which there were many, because I knew that Kavanagh had the authority to kick us all out at any given time. But, even I lost control momentarily when the bill passed through Appropriations that day. Tears streamed openly down my face, which the TV cameras gladly recorded, and I didn’t care because they need to see it. I know how this will affect the people I care about. If this manages to become law, I know we will see a rise in violence and harassment against our community. I know the list of hundreds that we remember annually at Transgender Day of Remembrance will grow. I know that friends of mine will be afraid to use any public toilets, putting them in worse health situations and forcing them to live in a constant climate of fear. The people voting for the passage of this bill refuse to acknowledge our problems. They sit and listen without hearing us. We feel that they genuinely do not care about us and would probably be glad if we simply didn’t exist anymore to make them “feel uncomfortable”. But we do exist. We are here and we’re not going anywhere. And we are angry and mobilized and will be fighting this every step of the way. We have too much to lose to sit idly by while Phoenix, Arizona continues their trend of crazy lawmaking by legalizing discrimination.”
State Rep. John Kavanagh
In addition to the street demonstrations, there is also an effort to remove Kavanagh from office for his “attacks on students, LGBTQ individuals, and attempts to thwart legitimate recall efforts”, these efforts can be found here: http://raisethebaraz.blogspot.com/
So in the face of this upsurge, what has the opposition done? Well, apparently very little, and what efforts they have made have been soaked in the same old fear-mongering. As Gettys put it,
“Those speaking out against us have been surprisingly silent for the most part this time. At the non-discrimination ordinance hearing which added protections for the disabled and for LGBT people which specifically included the language ‘gender identity and expression’ which Kavanagh is now using in SB 1045, had huge numbers turn out to speak. Mostly they spoke about how they fear and hate transgender people. CAP [Center for Arizona Policy] was active in turning out their constituents, but it worked against them. For years I have attended meetings to discuss LGB and gender issues only to run into Cathy Herrod repeating her same tired fear mongering. So this time Cathy Herod and CAP have been noticeably silent. Perhaps she realized the failure of her strategy. The hearing for SB 1045 had no one sign up to speak for it.”
This is a reflection not only of what is happening in Arizona, but what is happening all across America: the opposition’s old fear mongering and astro-turfing isn’t working anymore. They are losing and their increasingly desperate tactics are falling on deaf ears.