The phony “bathroom” issue

I am so tired of this.


Although Houston’s 36-page equal rights ordinance makes no mention of public restrooms, access to restrooms has become the focus of a raging public debate with the law set to go before voters on election day.

Opponents of the ordinance, largely conservative Christians, have flooded radio and TV with ads saying the law gives men dressed in women’s clothing, including sexual predators, the ability to enter a woman’s restroom. On Tuesday, the group released a TV spot that closes with a man bursting into a stall occupied by a young girl.

Supporters of the law, however, said the ordinance would in no way protect predators, pointing to a longstanding city law that bars someone from entering a restroom of the opposite sex with the intent to “cause a disturbance.” Legal experts agree the equal rights ordinance does not offer any protections to those who commit crimes, such as the oft-cited example of sexual assault, in a bathroom or any other place.

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer said the law does not mean someone can enter a bathroom with the intent to commit a crime, regardless of gender.

“It’s a phony issue,” Linzer said. “If you commit a crime in a bathroom, you’re going to be prosecuted, and HERO is not a defense.”


Mayor Annise Parker pushed back this week on the idea that the ordinance in any way presents a public safety threat. The law is intended to protect someone’s consistent gender identity, not someone seeking to illegally gain access to a restroom.

“Two-hundred cities, 17 states have the same ordinance that we do or very similar wording that we do,” Parker said. “This just doesn’t happen. It is illegal for a sexual predator to go into a women’s restroom and attack anyone, and the idea that somehow the city of Houston is giving them free license is so offensive.”

Supporters of the ordinance have also questioned the authority of opponents on the issue of sexual conduct, given allegations against one of the group’s leaders.

That of course would be Kendall Baker, who is unironically out there warning people about perverts. I’m tired of talking about the lying and the lying liars who have been doing all this lying, so let’s talk a little about the truth. Here’s some truth about sexual assault from someone who’s spent a lifetime helping people who have been victims of it.

The talking point continues to be one of the most popular right-wing attacks on LGBT non-discrimination laws, and HERO’s opponents have used it relentlessly to weaken support for the measure among women and parents.

But in May 2014, during a public hearing before the Houston city council, HERO supporters gained a powerful voice in their fight against the “bathroom predator” talking point: Cassandra Thomas.

Thomas has spent thirty-one years at the Houston Area’s Women Center (HAWC), an organization dedicated to helping individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence. Aside from serving as HAWC’s Chief Compliance Officer, Thomas is also a member of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Board and sits on the editorial board of the Sexual Assault Report of the Civic Research Center. She’s won numerous awards for her work on domestic and sexual violence, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Testifying before the city council, Thomas drew on her decades of experience to dismiss opponents’ fearmongering. “If you really want to stop sexual assault,” Thomas said, “then let’s cut out the scare tactics, and let’s speak the truth.”


The problem with the “bathroom predator” talking point, she explained, is that it fundamentally misunderstands how and why sexual assault occurs.

“Transgender people are not my bogeyman in the closet. My bogeyman in the closet is the man who is a rapist who has a position of power, that everyone thinks, because he has power or because he’s nice or because he’s white or because any of those stupid reasons, that ‘I’m safe from him.’ That is my biggest fear.”

Thomas’ position has been echoed by sexual assault experts in states and cities with similar LGBT non-discrimination policies, and it’s supported by research. Sexual assault is overwhelmingly carried out by people victims know and trust — family members or friends, religious and community leaders, etc. — and not random predators who pretend to be transgender.

“It puts a bogeyman face on a group of people who don’t deserve it at all, who are, by no account, through what we know, are dangers,” she added.

Stereotypical images of shady-looking men sneaking into women’s restrooms — which have become a centerpiece of the anti-HERO campaign — give women a “false sense of security,” Thomas explained. “It makes women think that there are only certain places and certain people that I have to be afraid of and that’s not true. We don’t know what rapists look like. There’s no big R on their forehead. And that misinformation sets women up to be injured.”

When asked about why opponents of HERO had latched on to the “bathroom predator” talking point, Thomas dismissed the idea that HERO’s opponents were seriously motivated by a concern for women’s safety. “If it was about women’s safety then these same people would be involved in the anti-violence movement from the start,” she said.

“If these same people were concerned about the safety of women, they would have come out against any number of issues that have come up about sexual violence over the years, but they have been remarkably silent. So all of a sudden women are in danger because of transgender people? No. They’re not.”


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19 Responses to The phony “bathroom” issue

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    I am sick of it also. I can’t believe we are talking about allowing men in women’s restrooms. This is a crazy world. From the never happens department here is a clip….


    I know I am a liar, hater, blah blah blah

  2. M@ says:

    We most certainly agree on your last sentence. The bathroom scenario is about the most disingenuous political ploy I’ve ever seen.

  3. Katy Anders says:

    The “Kidnappers in the bathrooms” idea makes a lot of sense to me.

    Of course, I’m also waiting to rob a bank until I can legally park in front of it without fear of a parking ticket.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    I am against the HERO, but even I agree that the ad with the guy pushing his way into the little girl’s stall is disingenuous. Anyone who pushes open that little girl’s stall, woman, man or whatever, is still guilty of a crime.

    I disagree with it because I don’t agree with subordinating the rights of a business owner to, well, everybody else, people who aren’t paying the salaries, property tax, light bill, etc.

    I also disagree with it for a reason that the anti Religious folks SHOULD have used in their ads. It isn’t the restroom that is going to be the problem, because women’s restrooms all have stalls with doors. Nothing to see here, folks, move along. And a genetic woman in the men’s room…..same deal. Without an actual winkie, that person is relegated to a stall anyway. The actual problem is in the locker room, where people are showering. In any gym locker room, it is going to be difficult for someone with or without a winkie to get by unnoticed. This would be especially disconcerting in our public schools. Do we really think teen boys, for example, are going to see someone who may “identify” as a boy but has different plumbing, and NOT get very interested in checking it out? Do we really expect teen girls to see a winkie on someone who “identifies” as a girl and not be similarly interested?

    The locker room is the real issue the religious righters should have hung their hats on.

  5. Manuel Barrera says:

    Bill, thank you for not supporting HERO, however;

    HERO allows a man who claims he is a woman entry into bathroom, showers, lockers. There is one recent instance where two guys went in and were taking over the walls of the stalls. I imagine that the women stalls are similar to what we find in the men’s bathrooms, they don’t go all the way to the ceiling. There have also been instances of them sticking the cameras underneath the doors (I am assuming that they are similar to what one finds in the men’s stalls). Why make in easier for sick minds to do such things?

  6. paul kubosh says:

    You guys just don’t have enough exposure to pure evil. Have a good weekend.

  7. Bayard Rustin says:

    No one’s heart is going to be changed by posting on this blog. It’s an anti-gay campaign masquerading as protecting children. I wonder too if the anti-gay sentiment isn’t stoked by antipathy to anyone or anything connected with the Democratic Party. One wonders too why folks with opposing views post to a blog that has such a progressive bent. It’s as though you just can’t stand it that someone in Texas doesn’t agree with the prevailing conservative bent of the state and you’re out to prove the blogger and his supporters wrong. Why not stick with blog like Big Jolly Politics where you can live in your own parallel universe?

  8. Bill Daniels says:


    The thing is, I have noticed that most everyone who posts here (including myself) sometimes agrees with Kuff, sometimes not. Is lockstep agreement a prerequisite for posting here? You and I may disagree here, yet agree on the next topic.

    @Manuel: Sticking cameras under stalls is still going to be illegal, so that’s a red herring, too, just like the anti-hero commercial.

  9. Bill Daniels says:


    For further clarification, had the ordinance been strictly for City of Houston facilities (excepting locker/shower rooms of course), I would have supported it. Government absolutely should be treating its citizens equally.

  10. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    It is not currently illegal under Houston city ordinance for a man to enter a locker room or shower facility designated for women.
    It is not currently illegal under Houston city ordinance for a man to enter a restroom facility designated for women, as long as it’s not done “in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.” If Manuel Barrera were to be seen emerging from a women’s lavatory, he could not be successfully prosecuted for violating City Ordinance 28-20 unless prosecution could demonstrate that he entered the facility in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance but had failed to manage to do so. Otherwise, Manuel can feel free to pee in the toilets in the women’s restrooms in the city, private and public.

    HERO doesn’t actually change the legality of those acts under city law. I’m more charitable than some in that I’ll concede that Manuel and Paul might not be lying. They might genuinely believe this false thing they keep saying.

    Under HERO, let’s say that a hypothetical sexual predator, let’s call him “Mike Huckster,” puts in a dress and attempts to enter a locker room and shower facility designated for women because apparently Mike’s all about seeing naked teenage girls. Let’s further say that someone prevents Mike from entering that facility despite Mike’s protestations that he’s actually a woman and should be allowed, so Mike now files a complaint with the city under HERO, kicking off the provisions under section 17-52. We’ll assume that the facility isn’t exempt from the provisions of the ordinance under 17-54, although a lot of locker room and shower facilities will be (for example a YMCA). I think that at this point, someone needs to show that it is likely that the inspector general will agree that Mike does, in fact, identify as a woman under the definition in section 17-2 and is not filing a complaint in violation of 17-51(c).

    The purpose of the gender identity provision is to allow, for example, Caitlyn Jenner to use the women’s restroom at the Hobby Lobby. Now, I understand that some people (and Hobby Lobby)want to contend that Caitlyn Jenner is a man, but they find that such a position doesn’t garner them much sympathy. I would suggest that there is some overlap between the group of people who want to be allowed to discriminate against and oppress transgender men and women and the group of people who are advancing this whole “rapists in the toilet” mess.

    As for the libertarian argument, personally I think the best policy approach would be not to criminalize discrimination but to establish solid civil remedies. I’m not, however, really sympathetic to the notion that private individuals and businesses should be free to discriminate unimpeded. I think we’ve tried that in the US and it has worked out poorly.

  11. Manuel Barrera says:

    Daniels of course it will still be illegal, the ordinance does not make crimes legal, what it does it facilitates evil minds to carry out evil acts. If you believe everyone is nice, good luck with that.

  12. Manuel Barrera says:

    Robbie, I understand as do many others who believe like I do. I think you fail to understand the argument.

    Let us say that Robbie is a sexual predator. Let us say that Robbie knows that in Houston a man can claim to be a woman and enter a woman bathroom. Robbie then commits a sexual assault. Robbie is caught and convicted. The problem us “who fail to understand” find is why are we making it easier for Robbie to commit a crime.

    Phrase in a way that some people may understand, should we sell guns to people that have mental problems?

  13. Steve Houston says:

    Okay, so using your scenario, we have a sexual predator named Manuel Berreran, who is not openly gay nor has he admitted to thinking he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body. He knows that Houston already lacks an ordinance keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and women out of men’s bathrooms but he is “evil” and apparently overlooks this fact in his nefarious schemes of domination. Manuel commits a sexual assault in a bathroom, which IS against the law and will remain so under the HERO ordinance. He is then convicted and sent to prison for a taxpayer paid vacation.

    The problem those of us who support the ordinance have with this bogus scenario centers on the fact that no part of the ordinance made it any easier for Manuel to commit the crime. It was legal for men to enter women’s bathrooms before HERO and HERO doesn’t alter that in any way. Basing an entire campaign ad on that aspect of the ordinance is therefore crazy.

    I get the reasoning for doing so though, it’s a lot tougher trying to stir people up over very real, very honest concerns like further imposing state will on private businesses, issues with privacy in locker rooms (which hasn’t been a big issue given most places with showers stopped having communal showers years ago), those who support state sponsored discrimination in the form of affirmative action for those who can’t compete in the free market probably don’t like the possible changes from that, and many other concerns. Yet the best some can do is come up with a goofy argument and stick to their guns no matter what.

    Again, I don’t think Kuff does himself much credit when he starts calling everyone opposed to the ordinance a liar though given the facts, it does seem well within reason to call those who focus on the bathroom scenario a liar if they have even a modest intellect. Had there been a wave of evil people committing sexual assaults across the country based in any way on such ordinances or the ordinance was over riding an existing bathroom law, there’d be room to talk. And the claim to have a better lock on “evil” than anyone else is a pretty amazing claim for anyone to make, I’m sure some who parked illegally were “evil” to MB or a few who PK represented on traffic tickets could have been Charles Manson’s tutors but if you want that argument to work, you’re going to have to do better than say “take my word for it” under these circumstances.

  14. Steve, I have been very clear that it is the leaders of the anti-HERO campaign that I am calling liars. That’s the folks like Jared Woodfill, Ben Hall, Dave Wilson, Steve Riggle, and so on. I have never called every HERO opponent a liar, though clearly some of them are making the error of putting their faith in liars. It is the people who are actively promoting the lie that HERO will cause sex offenders to magically appear in bathrooms that I am calling out and holding in contempt.

  15. Steve Houston says:

    I stand corrected, apologies; I was letting a few commentators cloud my view of your take. 🙂

  16. Manuel Barrera says:

    Steve, the fact that I can enter the bathroom without anyone thinking about it, made the crime easier. Why do people have burglar bars? It is still a crime to enter and steal? Why do we require background checks for people who buy guns? It is still the law to kill or use a gun while committing a criminal act. Why do we have laws that prohibit leaving your child in a closed vehicle, particularity in the summer? If the child is injured they will be charged criminally? There are many more examples. How many rapes or photographs would have to be taken? I have not even touched the privacy issue. Why should women or girls who do not want to view a naked man (has all the parts of a man) be forced to do so? Why should she be the one to leave if she doesn’t like it?

    Do you oppose all those type of laws, since the law already makes it a crime? It is not a bogus issue. You know it, but don’t want to admit it.

  17. Steve Houston says:

    MB, you can muddy the waters with side comments all you like but we haven’t had a problem with restrooms in all these years without an ordinance keeping opposite genders out of them, nor has it been a big issue across the country, so suggesting an ordinance that doesn’t even mention restrooms will open a floodgate of crime in them seems like a wild stretch.

    As a long time resident of the city, why haven’t you pushed for laws keeping men out of women’s restrooms if it was so offensive and prone to allowing rapes? Becky White tore into the myths of bathroom rapes just the other day and as head of the Houston Area Women’s Shelter, I think she knows more about the subject than you do.

    There are better lines of attack that are at least logically defensible and any specific points in the ordinance that offend the public can be amended as needed, but the bathroom attack isn’t impressing voters very much; one look at how poorly Hall is doing should be evidence of that.

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