G-Sync: The playbook of pee fears

Publisher and Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen tackles the real cost to Michigan if legislators enact bills that would prohibit residents who are transgender from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. If these bills get Lansing's stamp of approval, every business and citizen would be on the hook to pay for the misguided legislation.
One of the best parts of being in a modern society is that quite often we get to watch rapid advances move quickly through the populations. Cell phones now spend more time in our hand than the fingers of those we call our loved ones. We have even adopted new eating habits from gluten free to organic at an ever advancing rate. 

But I would have never expected that, when looking at the transgender population and our quest to make them whole citizens, we would be standing outside a bathroom asking for IDs before letting a person pee.

Michigan's state politicians have already spent a considerable amount of time introducing a stunning array of bills aimed at the chipping away at our cities' rights to govern their own citizens with fitting-for-our-times ordinances and laws.

Last year we witnessed a ban on any Michigan city to introduce a living wage ordinance. And this year Lansing has attempted to create a law that would ban certain (and very common) sex acts with a punishment of up to 15 years in prison. This spring they introduced an environmental gag bill aimed (again) at our citizen-led local governments’ rights to control the harmful environment impact of items like plastic bags often used at grocers.

Do you see where I am going here? We are experiencing a mind-numbing death of common sense in Lansing, and nothing validates this more than the constant attacks via an ever harsher array of new bills introduced over the last few weeks against those who identify as transgender and where they should use the bathroom to pee. And these new bills should have everybody taking notice for the harm they are about to inflict on our state's economy.

Maybe it is a form of short-term memory loss that afflicts them because, as they are so busy stripping away the thoughtful advances our Michigan cities with such short-sighted legislation, like the new round of bathroom bills, they seem to have forgotten how much North Carolina has lost in state revenue since enacting their foolish legislation. To date it has been estimated and reported that the legislation could cost the state $5 billion in lost revenue each year it remains law. And that amount keeps growing in the negative for them!

North Carolina’s total includes the loss of federal dollars for items like education and the reduction of corporate investors who publicly pulled out of the state. Even five states, where protections for transgender people are on their books, have cut off all taxpayer-funded government travel to NC as a result.

It includes the loss of sales, but also the loss of corporations seeking to avoid doing business with a state’s firm to the loss of personal income tax revenues. The net losses even trickle down to the economics of tourism — a multi-million dollar industry — as people will select to vacation elsewhere if a state is viewed as hostile to the basic human rights that should be afforded every American.

And yet our elected officials who peddle these hateful bills over non-issues actually place our fragile economy at stake. What they seem to have forgotten in Lansing is that 38 Michigan cities already welcome and grant transgender people the same human rights protections of their other citizens and that within each of these cities are various stages of positive growth creating revenue for the state, like in Grand Rapids where the jaw-dropping number of folks migrating here is nothing short of a Cinderella story for any modern city.

And yet, knowing all we do from those backward-thinking states like North Carolina and Indiana (which both have paid a high price in lost revenue as a result of discriminating actions), these current crop of Michigan “bathroom bills” making their way through Lansing’s halls are not being shouted down by the elected leaders from the 38 money centers of our state. When you consider the staggering economic hit we will surely take if enacted, it is mind-blowing that there are not revolts within both parties. 

A bit of background

Maybe what is needed here is a quick lesson around the economy of pee and what really is in play here as legislators seek to restrict a transgender person’s right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

For starters, these laws that seek to ban transgender people from using public bathrooms consistent with their gender identity are being shopped around using the oldest fear playbook that has been enacted by politicians over time.  

Fear has been used in the past at the federal level to round up Asian Americans during World War II and ship these Americans off to internment camps, which I discovered on a recent trip to California were often little more than horse stalls converted into living quarters. 

Or the kind of fear that led many states in the South to require by law that “colored” folk must use separate fountains than whites or to use a completely different entrance to a business establishment.  

Yes, the playbook of fear fueled by an irrational hate of someone simply because of something as silly as the shade of their skin or implied non-factual threat has caused undue harm over the centuries of our nation’s existence. It just saddens those of us who study history to watch us forget these mistakes as they seek to enact new forms of hardship that many see as nothing short of being cruel.

And so we are here again with a legislative body peddling fear — and this time in our bathrooms — as a way to enact another layer of punishment and segregation of a group of people. 

But how did we get to the politics of pee fear?

In almost all states where recent expanded protections for transgender people have been shot down, the playbook of fear has been that enacting such laws will pave the way for a predator to gain access to women’s bathrooms. In these commercials they often showcase a shadowy man entering a girl’s restroom in a remote location. 

And while the fears that women face every day, no matter where they venture in this world, from hotels to parking lots and even bathrooms, it is worth noting that at no time has it been recorded that a transgender person has ever assaulted another person in a bathroom. This is documented all over the nation as a fact.

What is a fact is that these fear-based tactics produce a trigger in people, and rightly so, because women are victimized at an alarming rate. If you ask any woman about how she navigates in this world, I can guarantee waltzing into any bathroom in a remote location evokes fear. It is a reality that any predator who wants to gain access to a bathroom can do so since the dawn of public bathrooms. If we were worried about assault in bathrooms then we would have installed guards in them after the bathroom attendant went the way of the three martini lunch in society. 

But women are not the only ones who are often victimized in public places like bathrooms, as minorities of all nationalities have often expressed to me their fears of places where they are generally not welcome due to the nature of these backroad communities.

Now I am not trying to pit cities against the rural communities where often these hateful bills originate via their elected leaders. Rather, I seek to move us past the playbook of fear with my lengthy editorial. I promise you it is worth the ride this week, so please join me on this journey. 

In my attempt to move us quickly through this complex topic, I want to employ six steps framed by the lyrics from last year’s Broadway Grand Rapids production of “Kinky Boots” (held at DeVos Performance Hall). I believe this helps put the entire bathroom bill into a new perspective and hopefully will change a few hearts along the way.

My goal is for intellect to rise in light of what I have discovered on this topic and for common sense to become the basis of any laws we seek to enact moving forward. It is time for a Lansing to have faith in our city's ability to govern the diverse population we call our neighbor-citizens.

One: Pursue the truth

Here are the hard facts from the nationwide survey Injustice at Every Turn” (2012) as to what it really means to be transgender in America. 

The survey, which included 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming participants from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, helps us in framing the need for a bathroom bill to begin by understanding, and addressing, the needs and lives of transgender residents.

According to the report, “Transgender and gender non-conforming people face injustice at every turn: in childhood homes, in school systems that promise to shelter and educate, in harsh and exclusionary workplaces, at the grocery store, the hotel front desk, in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, before judges and at the hands of landlords, police officers, health care workers and other service providers.”

Once you step into their shoes the “truth walk” is not so rosy for transgender people in America. The reports states that discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire country. What is also shocking is when you add to society’s anti-transgender bias and toss in structural racism because of their skin color, then you get a perfect storm of devastating results for the citizen.

As a result of this bias, the “Injustice at Every Turn” respondents revealed that they live most often in extreme poverty with a transgender person “nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.”

When we factor in their under-employment and the lack of access to jobs due to outright discrimination, respondents reported that a staggering 41 percent of them have attempted suicide. For the general population, like most of us reading this, our number is just 1.6 percent.

But that suicide rate is just the baseline; it gets worse for those transgender individuals who lost their employment bid or job due to bias. When this is factored in the rate rises to a staggering 55 percent because they know without access to employment they are facing the reality of homelessness at a rate that is four times of the general population. 

If a trans person was harassed or bullied at school their attempted suicide rate goes from 41 percent to 51 percent. If they have low household income, or were a victim of a physical assault that rises to 61 percent. Victims of sexual assault take the top slot with a jaw-dropping and sobering 64 percent attempted suicide rate.     

The truth here is not that this population is victimizing people, as being shopped around in these laws, but that transgender people are continually victimized at every step of their lives simply because we have not learned how to understand nor have taken the time to understand who they are.

Two: Learn something new

A friend of mine — who is also a Kellogg Foundation Fellow — recently posted a video from the travel site Momondo.  At first my cynical side took hold as I thought, “Great! Here’s another Pepsi vs. Coke-like challenge advertising moment,” but then something wonderful happened as my cynical side fell aside.

In Momondo’s lengthy Let’s Open Our World video, folks are asked to reveal their unfiltered views of their nationality pride versus that of others, which is often just a code for where one can easily hide one’s prejudice against another group of people based on race or religion. 

After folks produced a healthy spit sample into a vial, they were invited back to review their heritage DNA results that showcased their true national origins from around the world.

One by one, the walls they had built against others not like them came down simply because they learned how connected via DNA they were to places they once thought as foreign and not like them. 

Transgender is like that too because the more we talk about this we better begin to discover others among us who have long lived in silent fear. That is the power of knowledge: Once you understand the realities of a person’s real situation, then it becomes much harder to hold on to prejudice.

Three: Accept yourself and you’ll accept others too!

Projects like Momondo’s Let’s Open Our World DNA project open our minds in the process, allowing us to become more open and affirming of others’ journeys and struggles. Cities enable this journey as groups begin to mingle more and more, adding to the dialogue happening in local eateries to neighborhood parks to City Hall. 

Once you embark on a journey of learning, you discover many wonderful new aspects of living. And through the humility of study we often land on new understanding, too. Or as Babs (Barbra Streisand) sang in “Yentl,” “The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize the less I know.”  This is the joy of a life committed to learning to listen to others’ lives and their personal journeys. 

Four: Let love shine

Simply put, adding more hardship to the lives of others we already know face some of the greatest risks is not how a loving society should be, much less how our elected officials — who are supposed to be committed to protecting the well-being of our citizenry — should act. 

So many Michigan cities have learned the lesson of being open to change over the years and have benefited greatly. 

When we let the fears go we enable our fellow citizens lives to flourish and shine. Love still should be our guide in all we do concerning civil rights.  

And there is no greater love than letting someone use the bathroom.  

To deny anyone access since we think they don’t appear female or manly enough to pass through to relieve one’s self, is to create a whole new host of problems. 

Besides, do you really want to stand in the way of any person racing to get to the bathroom by saying, “Wait, You look a little too manly to use the women’s room. I’m going to need to see some ID?”  Here’s a hint: trans people have been using the bathroom that matches their gender identity for decades and possibly centuries without incident.

Five: Let pride be your guide

The reason our Michigan cities are growing each year is that we are becoming more open to those outsiders of our society, from immigrants to transgender people. The spirit of a welcoming city is an attractive quality that ushers in wave upon wave of new citizens. 

And when we engage in creating smart policies that respect everyone because we acknowledge each other’s journey, then we get the chance to evolve in our understanding of how incredibly complex we are as citizens. It just makes us a better city and from there pride of place emerges. 

Six: Change the world when you change your mind!

Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected politician, used to open his campaign speeches with a tongue-in-cheek line, "My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you.”

It still gets a laugh from me because Milk was not trying to “turn” one gay, but rather he was hoping to recruit a once skeptical population with a dash of humor to join him on his political journey as he sought votes. (Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk were both shot and killed in San Francisco's City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978.)

My journey on the transgender issue began a very long time ago. After the Greater Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce would fax over the latest diversity event — that always excluded the LGBT at the time —  I would fax back to them my concerns that our region needed to take our first steps on the topic of transgender in the workplace. 

I was met with the expected laughter and often teased for daring to move so quickly from friendly chamber staffers. Fast forward to the present and the area chamber has a fully functioning and growing business development LGBT group, OutPro, which is devoted to the needs of this population in our region. So with time we can see the growth on topics once thought ahead of their time.

Lansing has a lot they can offer the cities of Michigan, including the 38 that have boldly over decades enacted LGBT protections, but when they misalign their mission by implying a threat is real when the evidence is clearly false, then, Houston, we have a problem.

One positive aspect and maybe why cities like Grand Rapids — which has enacted LGBT protections since 1994 — are effective and growing is that while many transgender people are rejected through institutional discrimination, the role of a family who is accepting acts as a buffer against many threats to their well-being. 

In this case, I believe that the same city that has welcomed me with open arms is in many ways like my chosen family. Let’s commit to adopt a vision of a city where those who maybe don’t fit are welcome here.  This chosen family playbook abolishes fear, lessens loss of life and increases happiness. Isn’t this what community is all about and what makes those 38 cities of our state including ours all truly grand?

The real problem with these kind of bills, like the current Sen. Tom Casperson’s MI-SB 993 or MI-HB 5717 introduced by Jim Runestad and co-sponsored by 19 other state representatives, is that if they are successful in passing, then Michigan's citizens and businesses would be left to pay out of their pockets for the financial losses that will surely follow. And right as we are beginning our summer tourism and concert season, which is followed by our fall convention season.

And it's all because a few elected officials have orchestrated fears creating a problem that simply does not exist. 

Every civil rights movement has its turning point, and in the months ahead we, as a state, may face a lot of difficult legislative decisions that deserve our attention, but where one should use the bathroom should not be one of them.  

The Future Needs All of Us. (All of Us.) 

Tommy Allen
Publisher and Lifestyle Editor
Rapid Growth

For the most eclectic selection of activities happening in our region, visit G-Sync Events: Let's Do This!

Fact card images provided by Trans United. Transunitedfund.org 
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