As of publication, I’m disgusted to say that 1.1 million people have signed the American Family Association’s pledge to boycott Target as a result of the store’s new bathroom and dressing-room policy that “welcome[s] transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
I’m disgusted but not surprised, since this is just the latest in the fight against LGBT rights, in what is sure to be a long and drawn-out battle. The thing is, we already know who’s going to win, don’t we? Don’t we??
Or maybe I can see the writing on the wall because of my background as a US history teacher, someone whose profession it was to educate teenagers about lots of sad and backwards moments in US history, like the slave trade, Japanese Internment, and the Trail of Tears. I spent countless hours trying to help kids understand the history of prejudice in the US, the many faces of bigotry, the depth and breadth of injustice. And what was my reason for working my ass off for peanuts as a public-school teacher? (Hint, hint: it wasn’t the love and admiration of the public.) I wanted to produce classrooms of kids that wouldn’t make the same stupid mistakes so many generations before them had.
This fight against LGBT rights is so clearly our generation’s Civil Rights Movement. From any reasonable perspective, you cannot argue that a particular group of individuals be denied the rights, dignity, and basic humanity that the general population expects. But lots of people vehemently oppose LGBT rights with a range of arguments that all basically amount to fear-mongering. (Isn’t this the way we’ve always been able to justify denying people their rights? “Think of what might become of our great country if women could vote!”)
For instance, the petition’s proponents argue that Target’s bathroom policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims.
Folks, I really don’t think sexual predators have been waiting around for Target to change its bathroom policy. If a criminal wants to find an opportunity to accost someone, they don’t need a transgender nondiscrimination policy to do it.
In fact, in the dozen states that have already passed nondiscriminatory bathroom laws, lawmakers and law-enforcement officials have continually reassured the public that sexual assaults stemming from these laws are basically non-existent (Media Matters). And just last month, Politifact reported that, “We haven’t found any instance of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States…. Neither have any left-wing groups or right-wing groups.”
So if it’s essentially a myth that we should expect a dramatic uptick in sexual assaults as a result of this new bathroom policy, we can only be left to assume that the argument actually goes more like this: gender nonconforming individuals themselves are dangerous, and we don’t want our women and children to fall prey to them. These people are confused. They’re mentally disturbed. They’re acting out. And they can’t be trusted.
Throughout US history, we’ve seen so many different groups ostracized and demonized, but there’s one in particular that comes to my mind right now. We’ve seen this rhetoric of impending sexual danger for women and children before, back when generations of white men insisted that white women needed to be shielded from “black beast rapists,” who were inherently lustful and violent. The white majority fabricated a savage identity for the minority and used fear to maintain the status quo and continue to deny rights and justice to black men:
Trials [for accused black rapists] themselves were public performances in which white juries usually, though not always, acted out their role as the protectors of white women, adhering to a script of sexual and racial ideologies made familiar through southern rhetoric. Most accused black men were convicted, but they were not necessarily guilty. The verdict of the jury merely indicated which side’s version of events better adhered to accepted social realities and expectations (White Women, Rape, and the Power of Race in Virginia, 1900-1960; emphasis my own).
Sounds familiar right? It doesn’t really matter if the accused is guilty (if gender nonconforming individuals are dangerous), because we’re all just playing out an accepted social norm: different is bad. Being a minority has most often meant fewer rights in the US. Sure, we’ve seen a lot of progress over the centuries, but each disparaged group has a hell of a lot of hoops to jump through. Which makes me wonder: Why can’t we just skip this part? Aren’t we reliving history right now by vilifying the LGBT community? Aren’t we denying a particular group its rights because of our fears, because of our perceptions of them?
Sadly, I’ve heard lots of people say, “Why the hell should I have to change the way I live my life to accommodate these people who don’t even make up 5% of the population?” It’s an interesting question, but here’s the thing: Wasn’t this the same logic we used after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the US imprisoned more than 127,000 US citizens of Japanese descent? Better to discriminate against a small percentage of the population than endanger the rest? It was totally justifiable to trample on the rights of 0.09% of the population in order to mitigate that security risk, right? Wrong.
Or how about the way Americans pushed native people (again, “savages”) off their land over the decades, culminating in President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. The government drove some 15,000 Cherokees west of the Mississippi River in a journey that was so strenuous it became known as the Trail of Tears. Approximately a quarter of the native population died on the trek. For good reason, the whole thing didn’t go down as one of American’s proudest moments: the majority trampling the minority, yet again. Not pretty.
If anything, history shows us, over and over, that the majority’s perceptions/faith/biases don’t trump the rights of others, no matter the size of the group. They just don’t.
The good news is that Americans are coming around to LGBT rights:
Whereas 38% of Americans said gay and lesbian relations were morally acceptable in 2002, that number has risen to 63% today. And while 35% of Americans favored legalized same-sex marriage in 1999, 60% favor it today (Gallup).
Doesn’t the evidence show where this whole thing will end up? So why not skip the whole attack on the minority for once? History is on their side.