There are twenty state laws in various stages of enactment that will apply to public bathrooms. Some create crimes. Some require signs. Some just dictate who may enter and who may not. These are bad laws, both because they regulate a “problem” that doesn’t quite exist and because they impair the agency of whomever cleans the bathrooms to make whatever choice they prefer. What business is it of the State of Tennessee to tell me who can and cannot use a bathroom?
Last month, Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee signed into law a discriminatory bill to prevent transgender people from using restrooms aligning with their gender identity at any business or place of public accommodation. A few days earlier, Governor Lee signed an anti-transgender student bathroom bill, too.
If a business wants to let transgender people use the room that matches their gender identity, what does Bill Lee care? And if a school is faced with that question, it’s up to the elected school board to make a decision. The governor isn’t on the school board. So why is he sticking his nose into local business?
The issue arises not from some affirmative compulsion on the part of states to dump on transgender folks but in anticipation of a federal mandate that forces schools and businesses to maintain transgender bathrooms. The federal government did this before, and Biden has made clear that it will happen again. The Tennessee legislature and governor have decided to take action to pre-empt the federal regulatory mandates, not that it will necessarily do them any good.
L.G.B.T.Q. people need more ally leaders like District Attorney General Glenn Funk of Nashville, who has taken a stand against the Tennessee legislature by refusing to enforce what Mr. Funk calls “hate,” asserting, “I believe every person is welcome and valued in Nashville. Enforcement of transphobic or homophobic laws is contrary to those values.”
If prosecutors won’t prosecute, then laws enacted by legislatures and signed by governors don’t really matter much. And the push is for “allies” in critical positions in government to engage in “civil disobedience,” or some might argue in violation of their oaths of office. to refuse to enforce laws with which they disagree.
Defying the law is a big step, but nothing less than our civil rights are at stake. Which is why we’re taking our fight to the courtroom, challenging anti-trans laws like the one Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed last week. But we also need action from players like the law enforcement agencies tasked with enforcing bathroom bills like Tennessee’s — which requires businesses with “formal or informal” policies of allowing transgender people to use the appropriate restroom to post offensive and humiliating signage. Denying transgender people the ability to access a bathroom consistent with their gender identity isn’t only degrading, it has significant health and safety consequences, especially for trans youth.
There are serious arguments involved in how to address transgender discrimination and rights. There are also silly arguments. There are arguments that remain below the surface, as to what unintended consequences will follow from this argument, since it starts with transgender bathrooms but will eventually spread throughout our social fabric.
Is it time to have a conversation about transgender rights? No. No it is not. Not because we don’t want to or need to, but because activists will not tolerate any discussion. They want what they want and while J.K Rowling might have enough heft to overcome their cries of hate, will Jesse Singal, you or I? Any hint of a question about whether transgender people get to do as they please is met with a thousand shrieks of transphobia.
Instead, we’re left with bureaucrats like Gupta, and even district attorneys like Funk, imposing by fiat their will to counter the legislative overreach of Tennessee and other states in anticipation of the federal mandate that will compel your business, your school board, your place of employment, to stop discriminating against transgender people by discriminating for them. And we still can’t talk about it.