Despite Backlash, Ohio Legislator Considers Trans Discrimination Bill

Photo credit: Lee Harrington. Used with permission.
Photo credit: Lee Harrington. Used with permission.

Protesters gathered in Columbus Wednesday March 25, to oppose a discriminatory bill targeting people. Despite a massive backlash, including several boycotts and international criticism, Ohio Representative , a Republican from Union Township, is drafting an anti-transgender “bathroom bill”, similar to North Carolina’s infamous House Bill 2 (often called HB2). North Carolina’s law requires people to use the restroom corresponding with the gender listed on their birth certificate.

North Carolina’s law also prevents city governments from enacting non- ordinances, and prohibits localities from raising their minimum wage. Since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed HB2 into law, the state has received international criticism and opposition, including boycotts from entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, and lost revenue from businesses such as Paypal and Deutch Bank expanding elsewhere. In a press conference with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama denounced both North Carolina and Mississippi’s discriminatory laws, saying they “are wrong and should be overturned.”

Despite North Carolina’s lost revenue and negative publicity, Rep. Becker continues discussing a potential bill.

“Why isn’t this real simple?” Becker said, “If you have male genitalia, you go in the men’s bathroom. If you have women’s genitalia, you go in the women’s bathroom. It’s unfortunate that legislation might be necessary to enforce common sense but that’s the world we live in.”

Since HB2 became law on March 23rd, Becker has made 57 Facebook posts about his opposition to trans people using the restrooms of their genders. Those comprise nearly 40 percent of Becker’s total posts.

Interestingly, Becker uses the phrase “common sense”, closely repeating statements made by Governor McCrory. Although legislators described transphobic discrimination as “common sense” back in 2007, similar wording also occurs in the legislation itself. The sudden plurality of states proposing nearly identical bills suggests a centralized, calculated effort.

Who’s Behind the Bills?

The Republican National Committee quietly issued a resolution in January which encourages state legislators to “enact laws that protect student privacy and limit the use of restrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities to members of the sex to whom the facility is designated.” The resolution defines “sex” as “identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.”

Preceding the current trend, Arizona debated a “bathroom bill” in 2013 aimed at transgender people. Arizona is also home to a powerful conservative organization, called the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF utilizes over 3,000 attorneys and $44 million to promote policies and judicial rulings upholding anti-sodomy laws, “religious freedom” discrimination, California’s Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage, and, most recently, transphobic “bathroom bills.”

As Mother Jones reported the ADF has even issued a template for these discriminatory bills, which explains the remarkable similarity between them, as well as their sudden frequency among various states.

Governor Kasich’s Response

On Sunday, April 24, Ohio Governor John Kasich said he would “probably not” have signed a bill like North Carolina’s HB2.

Presumably unaware of Representative Becker’s comments, Kasich added, “in our state, we’re not facing this,” and “Unless there’s something that pops up, I’m not inclined to sign anything.”

Of course the governor cannot sign a bill that doesn’t exist, but Kasich’s additional remarks on the matter did not specifically clarify whether or not he would veto a “bathroom bill” should one reach his desk.

Kasich stated he believes “religious institutions ought to be protected,” and people who disagree on such matters should “get over it.”

Rep. Becker’s Record

So, who is Representative John Becker?

His website states, “Marriage can only be between one man and one woman (it really is that simple).”

His staunch opposition to marriage equality goes even further. In April 2014, Becker introduced a resolution to urge the US House of Representatives to impeach federal judge Timothy Black, who had recently stated his intent to chip away at Ohio’s ban on marriage equality. Offering the “states’ rights” argument against marriage equality, Becker’s goals of impeaching Judge Black and of preventing marriage equality were both unsuccessful.

Becker describes himself as a “minimalist”, stating he “wants to keep taxes and regulations as minimal as possible.” Despite claiming to support minimal regulations, Becker wants to regulate transgender people’s restroom use, though he realizes that is not an existing issue. Unable to cite an example of a trans person assaulting or harassing anyone in a restroom, he said, “Someone needs to step up before this becomes a problem.”

“My concern is sexual predators posing as transgender people to gain access to women’s facilities,” said Becker.

Becker represents Ohio’s 65th district, in the southwest region of the state. About 20 miles north, Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl, intentionally stepped in front of a semi truck on Route 71 in December 2014. Alcorn published a note on social media explaining that and “conversion therapy” influenced her decision to kill herself, concluding with a plea for those reading to “fix society.”

The Reality

However, as LGBTQ advocates and data explain, the majority of physical and sexual violence does not occur randomly. At least 80 percent of sexual assault victims, including children, personally know their assailants. Furthermore, sexual assault is still illegal everywhere. Advocates for firearm ownership often argue that gun control laws will only deter those who follow the law, and criminals will still obtain firearms illegally. According to that argument, hypothetical sexual predators wishing to enter a public restroom probably wouldn’t be deterred by a law or sign forbidding entry.

There are zero instances of a transgender person assaulting or harassing a cisgender person in a public facility. Reality shows the opposite to be true; transgender people are disproportionately more likely to be victims of assault and harassment in such facilities. A study published in 2013 found that 70 percent of trans respondents experienced harassment, discrimination, and/or physical violence when using a public restroom

Since their objections to racial integration, the political right has capitalized on people’s prejudices and fears regarding the oppressed minority du jour. However, government institutions and public opinion have and continue to recognize people of color, women, cis gay/bisexual people as worthy of equal rights and humanity. If you would like to encourage Rep. John Becker to do the same, you can reach him at (614) 466-8134 and 77 S. High St 12th Floor Columbus, OH 43215.

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