Last Wednesday was a bad day for civil rights in Montana and America.
It was a day that saw the president of the United States express an intention to bar transgender individuals from military service, and a day that a group of well-funded bullies got the go-ahead to pursue the persecution of a small number of Montana residents who happen to be transgender.
Yes, on the same day that President Trump tweeted that the nation’s armed forces would no longer welcome transgender service members, Montana’s secretary of state cleared a proposed ballot initiative that would make it illegal for Montanans to use the taxpayer-funded facilities of their choice, and allow people to sue for emotional or mental distress if they encounter a transgender person in a public bathroom or locker room.
It appears the president’s tweets were premature and there are no immediate plans to reinstate the ban that was lifted just last year. However, his message was clear: it’s war on transgender people.
And Montana, unfortunately, is now on the front lines thanks to the ballot initiative submitted by Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation, the same group that tried to push Montana’s Legislature into passing a similar law earlier this year. That effort failed, thankfully, but now the foundation is working to put its discriminatory agenda before voters in 2018.
Initiative 183 would “require a person using a locker room or protected facility in a government building or public school to use the facility that is designated for that person's sex.” In order to appear on the 2018 ballot, the initiative must earn at least 25,800 signatures representing at least 5 percent of voters from at least 34 House districts in the state.
There’s no telling how many people in Montana have never (knowingly) met a transgender individual and may harbor some misunderstandings about them, but it’s highly likely that supporters of this initiative will try to leverage those misunderstandings into fear and loathing.
The truth is, Montana doesn’t have and doesn’t need any law barring anyone, of any gender or race or religious background, from using certain public facilities. There simply isn’t a problem – but this ballot initiative could create some.
As the supporters of I-183 attempt to justify the need for such a law, we suggest that they explain to Montanans why the mother of an 18-year-old boy with severe autism should not be allowed to help her son use a public restroom – not even after checking to ensure the room is empty, not even in a private stall.
And while they are at it, tell the adult son of an 80-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s that he may not enter the women’s restroom to help guide his distressed mother out of a confusing and unfamiliar place.
Tell Montana’s law enforcement officers, attorneys and judges why they should spend any portion of their valuable time enforcing this requirement when there are so many other urgent matters demanding their attention.
The tragically misguided folks proposing this law harbor the delusion that they can “tell,” at a glance, whether someone was born male or female. The reality is that they are much more likely to mistake feminine-looking men and masculine-looking women for transgender people, and subject them to the humiliation of having to produce a birth certificate to prove it – humiliation they intend only for those who are transgender.
And it would backfire. The law would require transgender men to use the women’s bathroom and the women’s shower – and transgender women to use men’s facilities - because of a single letter on their birth certificate.
As a practical matter, do we really want to require Montanans to carry birth certificates to “prove” sex in order to use public facilities? And are we really prepared to pay out public dollars to individuals who sue for “emotional distress” over this issue?
Remember, North Carolina passed a similar law – and its economy has yet to recover. At last count, the state had lost out on an estimated $3.76 billion over the next 12 years.
We think Montanans have too much common sense and regard for our neighbors to enact laws that would do absolutely no good – and plenty of harm.
Perhaps, though, there’s a way to make everyone happy and put this matter to rest once and for all. In that spirit, and tongue firmly in cheek, here’s our own modest bathroom proposal: Let’s hold a statewide vote on whether those who keep trying to pass “bathroom bills” should be required to do their business in outhouses from now on.
Sure, it might be inconvenient, giving up the comforts and convenience of indoor plumbing, but surely it’s a small price to pay for the iron-clad assurance of complete privacy.
The rest of us will leave our birth certificates at home and continue to make free use of Montana’s public restrooms.