Houston, we have an equality problem.

Houston voters, who claimed that Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance would “allow men claiming to be women to enter women’s bathrooms and inflict harm,” repealed the ordinance, also known as Proposition 1, on Nov. 3. The anti-discrimination ordinance would serve to protect the rights of 15 protected classes, among them race, age and disability, but most prominently the LGBT community. The opponents honed in on the latter group and indirectly targeted them in their fight against Prop 1. Instead of taking the time to understand the purpose that the ordinance would serve, the opponents created a salacious video that indirectly portrayed transgender people as sexual predators. It is imperative that we talk about how transgender people are perceived and why such a slanderous video was even allowed to be made.

The Houston City Council narrowly approved Prop 1 in May 2014. However, the measure was “in limbo,” according to the New York Times, because opponents fought in court to make the decision based on a referendum. Ultimately, the measure lost by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. The activists who fought the measure alarm me because they had an extremely narrow perception of what the ordinance would do. Its purpose is to protect people, but they decided to make the measure solely about restroom access when the ordinance posed a larger and broader importance in creating non-discriminatory environments. The video advertisement that they created shows an older man hiding in a bathroom stall and then breaking into the stall of a young girl, who wore a surprised expression on her face. Throughout the video, the narrator states that “men claiming to be women” would be an increased threat if Prop 1 was maintained. The language in the video suggests that transgender women — who may or may not have undergone male to female transitioning — are sexual predators, and I am disgusted that such a video was advertised.

However, I am not surprised that the measure lost because Prop 1 opponents were playing on people’s fears. The video, despite being disturbing, plays on the more general fear regarding the frequency of assault toward women and young girls. Nonetheless, there are two broader implications of the video that are problematic. The first is that it is morally wrong to suggest that someone who is transgender is simply “posing” as a woman. There are many predators in the world, but labeling a group of people as one, whether directly or indirectly, should be called into question by Houston’s City Council, as well as the rest of the country who showed their support for the ordinance.

The second problem that I have with the video and the way the opponents have vocalized their revilement toward Prop 1 is that it is blatantly misogynistic. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said of the opposition toward Prop 1, “It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters.” This idea about protecting “our” women is not a new one; it is something that is deeply ingrained in our society and is reaffirmed in the disconcerting video. Believe it or not, women do not need men to protect them from danger. Likewise, we do not need protection from the assumed danger when the creation of the video makes it perfectly clear that the real trouble is coming from the people who would cast a young girl to act in such a depraved situation.

The most ironic part of the video advertisement is that it portrays transgender people as predators, but they are known to be victims of the highest rates of violence within their community. According to TIME, “Nearly 80% of transgender people report experiencing harassment at school when they were young. As adults, some report being physically assaulted on trains and buses, in retail stores and restaurants.” Creating a video, such as the one made by opponents of Prop 1, misguides the attention from the dangerous reality that transgender people face in their daily lives.

It is easy for many people, myself included, to be outraged when watching the video, but then move on with our lives because the social implications that the video provides do not directly impact us. However, this should be seen as a larger issue than just simply for those indirectly victimized by the video. The video poses the problem of predators violating women and girls’ privacy in public restrooms, but it offers no solutions. If opponents of Prop 1 could suggest any solution, it should be to install more gender neutral restrooms in public facilities. As of July 2014, The Huffington Post reported that, according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s LGBT organization, “There are more than 150 schools across the U.S. that have gender-neutral bathrooms.” The number is small, but the impact can be huge.

As time goes on, more and more of our youth and adolescents are identifying as something other than cisgender, otherwise known as identifying as the gender that one is assigned at birth. Although we may not be personally affected by what decisions are made now in regards to Prop 1 and other legislative actions that prevent equality, the reality is that future generations will be impacted by our decisions. Therefore, all of us, especially students across the country who have the privilege of not feeling isolated or the target of cruel, inaccurate advertisements, should speak up and say that enough is enough.

About The Author

-- Online Editor-in-Chief Emeritus-- Digital Journalism

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