So this happened yesterday:
Houston voters on Tuesday repealed a city law that protected LGBT people and others from discrimination. The decisive vote a was setback to progressive organizations that tried to uphold the ordinance and a victory for Christian conservatives who ran a campaign alleging the law would allow men to attack women in public bathrooms. With nearly all precincts reporting, results showed voters repealing the law by 61% to 39%, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office. “We are celebrating tonight!” Jared Woodfill, the chief spokesman of the repeal effort, told BuzzFeed News in a phone call from an election night party.
“We don’t believe that males... should be able to go into a female restroom, shower, or locker room under the protection of law,” he said.
This argument the haters are making—the argument that carried the day in Houston—sounds familiar...
The haters insist trans women aren't women. They're men. Men who fake being women because they wanna enter women's restrooms to ogle women and girls. So they're saying trans women are actually straight men. Straight men who pretend to be women specifically to enter women's restrooms to ogle (or worse) women and girls because opportunities to ogle women and girls are so scarce in our porn-saturated culture—porn is so hard to come by, and it's not like there are millions women and girls posting pics of themselves to Instagram, so of course straight men will fake being trans women (and risk the violence, discrimination directed at trans women) to get an eyeful of women washing their hands after peeing.
So the haters in Houston argued—successfully—that straight men are terrible. Right? They argued that trans women are actually straight dudes who are attracted to women. So the haters won yesterday by convincing a majority of voters in Houston that straight people suck.
Where have we heard this argument before? Oh, right...
The New York Court of Appeals had already recognized, in the adoption case, that same-sex couples were raising children. And in this case, the state had conceded that it would good for those kids for their parents to be married. So then we got to the what I like to call "the slutty heterosexuals" argument. This was the argument that straight couples needed to be allowed to marry because, unlike gay couples, there was the possibility that they could accidentally get pregnant and have children.
That's from an early chapter in Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA, Roberta Kaplan's terrific new book. In that passage Kaplan looks back at her first big marriage equality case, a case she argued before New York's highest court in 2006. Opponents of marriage equality were making what Kaplan calls the "slutty heterosexuals" argument and what I called the "straight people suck" argument. And it carried the day back then. The New York Court of Appeals upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage by pointing to the fact that only heterosexuals can get pregnant by accident.
In other words, because straight people might accidentally get pregnant, we had better offer them marriage as a way to promote stability. Gay people cannot have children by accident, so they and their planned-for children, much-wanted children don't need the benefits and protections of marriage and are on their own. The whole argument was irrational and absurd. I was deeply disheartened that we had had our chance to make history and had lost, but I was especially disappointed [at the] reasoning behind our loss...
Later that same summer, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld our state's ban on same-sex marriage using the exact same justification: only straight people can have children by accident and the whole point of marriage is to entice accidentally pregnant straight people into staying together to take care of their children and straight people will be less likely to do that—they'll be less likely to take care of their own children—if we allow gay people to marry because gay people are icky and straight people will abandon their children of we let gay people get their gay ick all over marriage. In other words: straight people suck.
What the New York and Washington opinions share—besides a willful disregard for equal protection clauses in both state Constitutions—is a heartless lack of concern for the rights of the hundreds of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples. Even if gay couples who adopt are more stable, as New York found, don’t their children need the security and protections that the court believes marriage affords children? And even if heterosexual sex is essential to the survival of the human race [as Washington state's Supreme Court helpfully pointed out], it’s hard to see how preventing gay couples from marrying increases heterosexual activity....
These defeats have demoralized supporters of gay marriage, but I see a silver lining. If heterosexual instability and the link between heterosexual sex and human reproduction are the best arguments opponents of same-sex marriage can muster, I can’t help but feel that our side must be winning. Insulting heterosexuals and discriminating against children with same-sex parents may score the other side a few runs, but these strategies won’t win the game. So I’m confident that one day my son will live in a country that allows his parents to marry.
"Straight people suck" was an argument—it was the argument—haters used against marriage equality, and it was a successful one... for a decade. But it eventually backfired on them. By 2015 the argument that persuaded a majority of justices in liberal states like Washington and New York was literally being laughed out of courts all over the country and Justice Anthony Kennedy would drive a stake through its heart in Obergefell.
I argued in 2006, which was a dark time in the struggle for marriage equality (those judicial defeats in New York and Washington came hard on the heels of voters approving anti-gay marriage referendums in more than a dozen states), that if "straight people suck" was the best argument the haters had against marriage equality... we were winning. Now, in an effort to block anti-discrimination laws, the haters are once again arguing that straight people suck—and this time they're advancing a dangerous, demagogic argument, an argument that will stoke the already appalling rates of anti-trans violence.
Right-wing assholes keep hammering away about the threat posed by trans people using public toilets. In reality, trans men and women are at higher risk of violent attack, hate crimes, and murder than any other group; trans women of color are at highest risk. (Three trans women of color have been murdered already this year.) And while it's true that cis and trans women are sometimes attacked in public toilets, these attacks are perpetrated by cis men, not trans women. (Want to make the world safer for women? Make it illegal for men to use public toilets.) And this whole revolting idea that a significant percentage of trans women are "male sexual predators [interested in] prowling ladies' restrooms" amounts to an anti-trans blood libel. This belief—that some or all trans women are actually male rapists trying to worm their way into "safe" spaces where they can attack "actual" women (because a male rapist can't walk into a women's toilet dressed as a man?)—results in violent attacks on trans women like this one. Fomenting this belief leads to more attacks on trans women.
Says a trans friend via text this morning...
What concerns me is that the rhetoric used in these arguments (trans women are just predator men there to attack our daughters and wives) frames the existence of trans women as being an ongoing, imminent threat to the safety of others. How long before a trans women gets shot by some dude there to "protect" his wife/daughter/whatever? If they were actually concerned about violence against women, they'd address the fact that cis men go into women's restrooms all the time and assault women (and don't pretend to be trans/don't wear a dress or whatever).
We have to hammer away at this fact: the haters in Houston are not concerned with violence against women. They're no more concerned with violence against women than the anti-marriage-equality crowd was concerned with the safety of children. If the haters in Houston were concerned about violence against women they would be going after straight men, not trans women (not even if they actually believe trans women are really men—it's not "men in dresses" attacking women in public restrooms). And if the haters who opposed marriage equality had actually been concerned about the welfare of children they would've supported marriage equality—they would've been anxious for children being raised by same-sex couples to benefit from the stability and security of marriage.
The argument against equality haters advanced in Houston is equal parts "straight people suck" and "there's no such thing as a trans person." We've demonstrated that we can defeat the "straight people suck" argument in the fight for marriage equality—it was a long fight, and we lost a few battles along the way, but we beat that bullshit argument. And the haters used to argue that "there's no such thing as a gay person." And we beat that argument years ago by coming out and, you know, existing. As more trans people come out, as more cis people come to know trans people (as more cis come to know the trans people they already know), that argument will fall apart too.
I'm not arguing for complacency. We fought like hell to beat the "straight people suck" argument against marriage equality and we're going to have to fight like hell to defeat the "straight people suck" argument against trans-inclusive anti-discrimination laws. But we can defeat it. We did it before, we can do it again.
I guess what I'm saying in this: I spotted a silver lining in the defeats we suffered in the fight for marriage equality in the summer of 2006. I'm seeing a similar silver lining today.