Policy in the Toilet

It probably won’t pass, may not even make it to the floor of the legislature, but a bill has
arisen that would police bathrooms in Ohio in a similar way that recently signed bills in
North Carolina and Mississippi will soon do. It’s still only in the conjectural phase, but
state Rep. John Becker of Cincinnati has suggested he might introduce a bill that would
require persons throughout the state to use public restrooms—even those located within
private businesses—that conform to the sex listed on their birth certificates. In the
current issue of the “Becker Report” on his web site, he describes the intent of the
legislation this way: “People with male genitalia must use the men’s room. People with
female genitalia must use the women’s room” (Becker 2016).
Becker’s stated reason for considering the bill is the recent decision by Target to allow
transgender persons to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity, and the
City of Cleveland’s consideration of a similar policy. He joins a long parade of illinformed
alarmists who have raised the specter of sexual predators using this loophole
to prey upon their female victims. He uses an unsettling metaphor to get his point
across: “[Target’s] reckless policy serves as an invitation to sexual predators to pose as
transgender persons in order to gain easy access to a smorgasbord of women and
young girls” (Becker 2016, emphasis added).
A smorgasbord? Really, John?
There are so many things wrong with the “logic” Becker uses to defend his position that
it’s hard to know where to begin. Which faulty argument should I take on first? The
irresponsible and immoral canard that equates trans persons with sexual predators? His
failure to acknowledge that, while there are no known cases of transgender persons
committing acts of sexual violence of the kind he imagines, violence against trans
women and men is common, and that his legislation would likely put more of them at
risk? The redundancy of creating a law to solve a problem—sexual violence against
women and minors—for which sufficient laws already exist? Or the way his proposed
legislation would do nothing about a much more plausible threat—male sexual
predators violating young boys in the men’s room? Nothing in his bill would keep
someone like former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, whom the judge at his
recent sentencing hearing called a “serial child molester,” from freely entering any men’s
room in the state.
It’s all a smokescreen, of course. In these ridiculous “bathroom bills” and discriminatory
appeals to “religious liberty” we’re seeing the final desperate flailings of a segment of
our society who are watching their long-held cultural dominance come to an
ignominious end. It would almost be comical if these flailings didn’t still have the
capacity to wound people and cause damage.
One of the more sinister elements proponents of these laws employ is the way they
stoke fears regarding the safety of women and girls. The false characterizations of what
it means to be transgendered and the unfounded equation of trans people with sexual
predators would be bad enough, but this tactic makes it even worse. It’s a blatantly
paternalistic ploy—the appeals are most often directed at men, and the message,
sometimes subtle, sometimes not, is, “What would you do if such-and-such happened to
one of your women?”
It’s reminiscent of the appeals to protect “Southern womanhood” from the threat posed
by dangerous black men going all the way back to Reconstruction—appeals that helped
pave the way for Jim Crow. The same tired arguments got trotted out during the civil
rights era to oppose the integration of schools and public facilities. Now the “scary black
man” has been replaced by a “scary trans man,” but the target is the same: our
It’s an obviously racist and transphobic argument, but it’s also a sexist one. It
perpetuates the stereotype of women as the “weaker sex,” in need of heroic male
figures to provide protection and deliverance. That these proposals find their most
fervent supporters among “Bible-believing” Christians is sad and shameful, but it’s a
trifecta for patriarchy: demean the LGBTQ community, assert male superiority, and
reinforce the subordination of women in the church, all in one fell swoop.
As Christians who also hold the Bible in high regard but do not insist on accepting
ancient or medieval interpretations of it, we need to stand up to bullies such as Rep.
Becker. We need to expose these efforts claiming to defend religious liberty and guard
against sexual predators for what they are: laws that would codify discrimination and
would further endanger persons who are already among our society’s most vulnerable.
One way to do that is to sign an online petition opposing any effort to enact these
discriminatory laws in Ohio. Another way is to befriend one or more transgender
persons and seek to learn what their experience is like. A third way is to invite these
new friends to church at UBC, where they will hear, perhaps for the first time in a church
setting, that they are created in the image of God and are beautiful in God’s and our
sight. Who knows but that some lives will be transformed in the process? Who knows
but that ours may be among them?
Grace and peace,
Becker, John. 2016. “Beckerisms: Ohio’s Pending Bathroom Bill.” The Becker Report.
Online. http://www.beckergop.com/TheBeckerReport/Current_Issue/