Houston transgender bathroom bill debate centers on differing definitions of ‘men’
The noisy debate over this city’s Proposition 1 has centered on whether it would allow men to use women’s public restrooms, which boils down to how you define “men” and “women.”
In a battle that has ranged from bathroom etiquette to gender rights to constitutional debates over religious freedom, a key skirmish broke out after former Houston Astros baseball all-star Lance Berkman appeared in an ad saying that the Nov. 3 ballot measure would “allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms,” and the Yes on 1 campaign fired back.
“Prop. 1 will NOT allow men to enter women’s restrooms,” says a post on the website Houston Unites, the group supporting Proposition 1.
By “men,” however, the campaign is excluding biological men who identify as women. Proposition 1 would ban discrimination in public accommodations such as restrooms based on 15 characteristics, including gender identity.
In other words, anyone who tries to stop a biological man who identifies as a woman from using a women’s room would be in violation and could face fines of up to $5,000, if the measure succeeds.
“Obviously, when somebody identifies as transgender, it’s a transitioning process that we don’t really know where people are at in that,” said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Houston Unites. “Ultimately, people who live and work in society as women should be using the women’s restroom, and people who live and work in society as men should use the men’s restroom.”
Proposition 1 allows voters to decide the fate of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the hotly contested law pushed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a Democrat, and passed by the Houston City Council last year. The law was moved to the Nov. 3 ballot after a signature-gathering campaign that went to the Texas Supreme Court.
Before the ordinance, Houston relied on Texas and federal law, which do not include gender identity.