In a move not surprising but still ugly, the PA Family Council sent out campaign literature for candidate for State House Jason Ortitay distorting HB 300 to paint his opponent, incumbent Rep Jesse White, as a threat to civilized society. White represents the 46th House District which includes portions of both Allegheny and Washington counties. Here’s the literature:
This is what we call the “bathroom argument” in which fear of transgender people needing to pee becomes fodder for hate, discrimination and bias. Let me break this down for you.
HB 300 does NOT take away the right to designate bathroom spaces based on gender. It simply reinforces the reality that transwomen are women and transmen are men. They can use the bathroom appropriate for their gender. Pittsburgh has had a non-discrimination law for over a decade – have you ever heard of a situation where a business is forced to eliminate gender specific bathrooms? No, because it is a myth.
I patronise a business on the Northside, a thriving Thai restaurant, and they have one bathroom. It is a very nice bathroom, but everyone shares it. I have no qualms about using it after a man. I also patronize many small businesses that have single occupant bathrooms. If I have to really go, I’ll use the men’s room. Frankly, I’m more annoyed and exasperated by young kids crawling under or peeping into stalls than anything else. But no one is suggesting kids not be permitted in the bathrooms are they? I’ve been using public restrooms for 40+ years and I can recall no incident where another adult intentionally peered into my stall. Can you?
Ortitay clearly doesn’t understand gender identity or gender expression. He writes “allowing men and women identifying as the opposite gender to use facilities specifically designated for one sex or the other.” What does this even mean? Transgender people are not men or women identifying as the opposite gender – they ARE the opposite gender than what they were assigned at birth. Some people have other ways of describing their gender, but no one is taking away your right to pee in privacy. They just want the same courtesy.
Again, it is a myth that adult men are sneaking around in wigs and dresses to peep at helpless women in bathrooms. Have you ever heard of that happening? No. What does happen is that transgender women and men – and anyone who defies gender normative expression – are at great risk of harassment and physical assault when they use the bathroom. In 2011, a 22-year-old transwoman named Crissy Polis was violently assaulted when she used the women’s room in a McDonald’s. To add to her copious injury, bystanders video recorded the incident instead of helping her.
My own Ledcat occasionally gets a second glance in a bathroom, especially if she’s wearing men’s or gender neutral clothing. She’s occasionally mistaken for a young man – it happened at dinner last week. Should she have to change her clothing style or use the men’s room? Of course not.
He also calls this a “new trend in state policy” and an “unusual social experiment.” Again, this is not true. Inclusive non-discrimination laws are in place in 19 states. Here in Pennsylvania, 34 municipalities have passed inclusive non-discrimination laws, dating back as far as 1983. That’s hardly a “new trend” nor is it a social experiment. It is fair to say that the lack of incidents of all the fears Ortitay is trying to plant in your minds is ample evidence that this is solid social policy.
Jesse White had this response to the mailing:
I am disappointed but not surprised that Jason Ortitay and the PA Family Institute have resorted to distorting the truth through fear mongering and bigotry.
Being an effective legislator requires the ability to understand complex issues that impact peoples’ everyday lives. These attacks demonstrate that Jason Ortitay either doesn’t understand the issues or doesn’t think the people of the 46th District are smart enough to understand the issues.
I believe in equality for everyone. I believe in equal opportunity for all people. The Bible tells us “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). I don’t know who Jason Ortitay thinks he is to challenge such wisdom, but it’s clear he doesn’t share the fundamental values of so many people of intelligence and faith living in the 46th District.
There are different ways that the far right-wing, both political and religious, spin their opposition to non-discrimination laws. They will sometimes claim that faith-based institutions are under threat in their hiring decision (not true.) They will claim landlords leasing a room in their own home will lose more control over the decision (not true.)
But this “bathroom” argument is perhaps the most vile because it feeds a social narrative that results in violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color. It paints the trans community as a group of sneaky sexual perverts out to rape the women and commit other sins. Frankly, if you want to start a social experiment in the public schools to protect women & girls, how about supporting anti-rape curriculums targeting teen-aged heterosexual boys? The data on that trend in social policy – sexual assault by young men against women – is firmly established.
It is not a social experiment to help the trans community access jobs, housing and public spaces without being harassed. The social experiment is whether decent people in Southwestern Pennsylvania can be hoodwinked by ambitious politicians using fear, hate and intolerance to amass power.
Mr. Ortitay has little to fear. HB 300 won’t be enacted this session so sponsors will have to try again in January. I applaud Representative White for supporting LGBTQ residents in his district and encourage him to remain firm in that support.
Don’t underestimate this hate. The PA Family Institute and the FA Family Council have Southwestern PA in their line of sight and they will definitely use LGBTQ neighbors to accomplish their goals. We haven’t seen the last of them, not by a long shot. Your best response is to vote and educate people. And push back.
For the record, here’s the 46th District. If you know someone in this district, contact them and encourage them to vote against this hate.
Here’s the full mailer.
This post has been updated to clarify that the mailing was sent by the PA Family Council.