Tag: transgender

Dear Jared Woodfill: Kiss My Queer Grits


Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County Republican Party leader who successfully championed the fight against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance by proclaiming “no men in women’s restrooms,” is representing a man in court who has admitted to taking photos of women changing clothes without their knowledge—in a bathroom.

Ten years ago, at a pool party at a private home, seven women went into the master bathroom to change into their bathing suits. Following them were three drunk men, including local tech-company owner BJ Farmer, who sat in the shower, took out their cell phones, and began snapping pictures while the women changed. Earlier this year, one of those women, Andrea Villarreal, sued Farmer after his ex-wife found the pictures on his laptop, shortly before their divorce proceedings, and brought them to Villarreal’s attention.

Villarreal is suing Farmer for invasion of privacy, negligence for having never deleted those photos, and defamation, alleging Farmer made false, misogynistic comments about her with fake user names on a Houston Press article about the case last year (tech experts traced online comments calling her a “gold digger” and a “disgusting worm who flashes her breasts to get attention from every guy” back to Farmer’s computer). Three months later, in February 2015, Farmer admitted in a deposition to taking the photos of Villarreal without her knowledge. He said it was just a “stupid, you know, idea at the time while we were drinking.” In that deposition, Farmer also admitted to doing this on more than one occasion, and to having pictures of himself fondling an unconscious nude woman at another party.

Woodfill, who is defending Farmer in the lawsuit, is the same man who managed to convince 61 percent of Houston voters, more than 160,000 people, to vote against HERO with one simple message: “No men in women’s bathrooms.”

Defending his client, Woodfill has called the lawsuit against Farmer—which he says in legal filings is “frivolous,” “harassing” and “brought in bad faith”—nothing more than an attempt by Farmer’s ex-wife to obtain full custody of their children by slandering her ex-husband’s reputation.

Woodfill wrote in one filing that Villarreal had “full knowledge” of the photographs Farmer took of her, even though Farmer already said on record that he “did not know” if Villarreal was aware of the photos and that he never told her he had them. At another point, Woodfill jumps into the apparent slut-shaming portion of Farmer’s defense: the woman was asking for it.

“Surely if it bothered her, she would not have been in front of multiple other people, including men,” Woodfill writes in one filing. “If she was so concerned about her privacy, she would not have been an active participant.”

When the Houston Press phrases it like that, it almost seems like the anti-HERO campaigners were not really interested in protecting women at all!


Jesus, Save Me From Your Followers!


The Houston Press’s Jef Rouner, speaking as a parent, tells it like it is:

This is the scenario people opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance want me to believe is going to happen: my little girl, all pink eyeglasses, blond curls, and a sass level over 9,000, will need to use a public restroom at the park or a restaurant. Once in there she will be at the mercy of a transwoman, maybe even one with a penis, who will use the rights protected by HERO to… what? Pee within a certain amount of feet from her? Expose herself? Molest her? What diabolical she-penis monstrosity has the City unleashed on our powerless womenfolk?

I’ve got to tell you I know a fair amount of trans folks, and the idea of any of them in the bathroom with my daughter scares me way less than the thought of someone who honestly holds these beliefs being in there with her does.

I’ve got to tell you I know a fair amount of trans folks, and the idea of any of them in the bathroom with my daughter scares me way less than the thought of someone who honestly holds these beliefs being in there with her does.

First of all, let’s get something out of the way that shouldn’t need saying: exposing yourself to people in public, physically molesting or assaulting them, and raping them, will still be illegal with HERO. Whether the perpetrator is another child, a 60-year-old grandmother, or a trans person is irrelevant.

Second, I researched HERO extensively last year in a cover story for the Houston Press, and among the many things I found out in my investigation was that lists of trans people caught abusing similar ordinances to expose themselves in public were generally bullshit. Most lists are compiled by the Family Research Council and then spread through the media by regular Fox correspondent Todd Starnes without any apparent fact-checking. Equal rights ordinances that include protection for gender identity do not lead to any verifiable uptick of sex crimes involving women and bathrooms. They just don’t.

Rouner notes that anti-HERO gender-policing might make it harder for parents to help their children in public restrooms, and further notes that gender-policing is often used to harass cis-gender people as well:

Second, and this is the one that bothers me the most, what’s to stop those same absolutists from endangering my wife and daughter? I mean, if someone is dead set on keeping penises out of the female restroom and there’s no inherent legal protection in place for gender identity (note: cis is also a gender identity) what’s to stop that person from demanding my wife, or even my daughter, prove she doesn’t have a penis? Yes, my wife and daughter are both very girly-girls that fit nicely into the presumed feminine ideal of the American mindset, but so do lots of transwomen. Since the whole idea behind the fear is that dicks are infiltrating “undercover”, presumably all it would take is some yokel’s reasonable doubt to end up with the women I love searched for their secret perverted attack dongs. Don’t think for a second this doesn’t already happen.

Given the choice between an imaginary wave of trans predators or an empowered lot of bigots using the law to police gender and gender identity at their whim, I know which one I feel safer sending my kid into. She’ll need HERO in her future far more than she’ll need outdated fear-mongering. One day she may be pregnant, or a veteran, or disabled, or hopefully old, and HERO looks out for all those people. Who do opponents of HERO look out for? The sort of folk that feel they have a right to judge where you can go by your genitals. As far as I’m concerned that makes them as trustworthy as witch-hunters stripping women to search for the devil’s mark, and I prefer those people as far from me and mine as possible.

As Rouner’s citations make clear – when equal-rights protections are put into place, this doesn’t cause men to “dress up” so that they can “infiltrate” bathrooms. Austin, which has a trans-inclusive public accommodations law, has never had a problem with it. Nationally, there are exactly zero cases of this.

But, when you empower bigots, things can get ugly. In addition to the Detroit case that Rouner cites, there was of course the infamous Astrodome incident, this case in Mississippi, and this personal story.

Because cisgender and non-transgender-non-gender-conforming women are so often targeted by errant transphobia, it is obvious that any self-described feminist or LGBT ally who would oppose HERO is a special kind of stupid.

The thing is, none of this humiliating gender-policing would be legal even if Proposition 1 fails to pass. It’s the flip-side of the argument ( Rouner made earlier) that it will still be illegal to harass people in bathrooms even if you let transgender people pee.

But I think Jef Rouner does make a good point, although it’s as much subtext-as-text. To wit: the HERO debate is largely about power. Specifically, the power of transphobes and the religious right to dictate the terms of social behavior.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the mentality of anti-HERO big-wigs like Steve Hotze, who projects his totalitarian fantasies onto his opponents:

“Just like there was a communist manifesto, there’s a homosexual manifesto,” Hotze said. “The hackles will stand up on the back of your neck when you see what they have planned.”

Copies of the manifesto were sitting on every seat in the audience, although the copies Hotze distributed omitted the first line of the original, which establishes the text as a “cruel fantasy.” The “manifesto” is a satirical essay, originally written in 1987, a strange and hilarious imagining of a world in which gay men reign as oppressors over lowly straights.

“Your sons shall become our minions and do our bidding,” reads one line. “All churches who condemn us will be closed. Our only gods are handsome young men. We adhere to a cult of beauty,” the manifesto continues, concluding after many paragraphs: “Tremble, hetero swine, when we appear before you without our masks.” A legally required disclosure immediately beneath Hotze’s version reads “Reprinted and Paid for by Campaign For Texas Families PAC.”

He’s not the only one. Witness the freak-out last year when sermons (speeches which are intended to be preached to the whole world and are not exactly “private”) were subpoenaed:

  • From Andy Woods — “The recent actions of the Houston city government surrounding its passage and protection of HERO (‘Houston Equal Rights Ordinance’) borders on what one would expect of a third world banana republic dictatorship rather than what we would expect to find in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
  • Mollie Hemingway — “totalitarianism of extremist wings of the gay rights movement.”
  • Kathy Howard — “So let’s just call this thing what it is. Christian persecution. Right here in the good ‘ole USA. Right here in the Lone Star State.”

And look how, in this current campaign, the antis are claiming that HERO constitutes “religious persecution” when in fact the ordinance would protect religion:

  • Charles Blain — “There is no doubt the mayor will use any political capital left during her term’s remaining six months to campaign hard to ensure that voters uphold HERO and her practice of religious persecution.”
  • Dave Wilson — “It was not rooted in eternal law and natural law. They circumvented the will of the people, refused to let people vote, violated the First Amendment, threatened our religious freedom, refused to follow man’s law and they violated God’s law.”
  • Ed Young — “Those of us who believe men should use men’s facilities and women should use women’s facilities—we will be discriminated against.”

Look at their own words! The opponents of Proposition One are terribly, terribly afraid of losing power — of being “persecuted” or “oppressed” or “discriminated against” — even though the law they are opposing expressly prohibits religious bias! One must conclude that either they have, collectively, lost their minds, or that what they are really saying is that they feel entitled to hold a monopoly on power, and cannot fathom having to share it with others.

Do you really want people like that, people so entitled and yet so insecure, to win this election? And do you think, if they win, that they won’t feel empowered – nay, obligated! – to leverage their newly-vindicated grip on power?

To be sure, I do not think that these folks will “go gently into the night” if HERO passes. I think they will obstruct and whine and pout. They will probably try to get the Supreme Court of Texas to throw it out, again (they do have a pretty good track record in court; it helps when the judges are politically-beholden to you).

Nevertheless, having a majority of Houston voters, on record, opposing them, ought to take a little bit of the wind out of their sails. And that, really, would be in everyone’s best interests.

On a related note, Bob McNair has walked back his donation to Campaign For Houston (the anti-HERO group). So we can go back to resenting him only for the incompetence of the Texans. Thanks a lot, Bob!

UIL Goes Full Derp on Transgender Student Athletes

The University Interscholastic League, the body that regulates high school athletics in Texas public schools, has proposed a new rule that might have the effect of banning transgender student athletes, if approved by district superintendents.

The Texas Standard had an interview this morning with Kiah Collier, who raised the issue in the Texas Tribune:

The governing body for Texas high school sports decided Monday to ask superintendents to determine whether to formalize a policy that uses student-athletes’ birth certificates to determine their gender.

Such a policy already is informally used by the body, the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, whose 32-member legislative council on Monday passed on an opportunity to vote on the proposed rule. Instead, the council decided to send it to the superintendents of member districts — with a recommendation that they approve it.

Critics say the policy effectively bars transgender students from playing sports.

The move comes amid increased focus nationwide on transgender issues. In Texas, residents of the state’s largest city are preparing to vote Nov. 3 on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would ban discrimination based on characteristics including gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, race, color, age, pregnancy and religion.

Notwithstanding the probable harm to students themselves, this policy looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen, based on recent cases and guidance related to federal Title IX:

While a UIL spokeswoman told the Texas Tribune the rule has been informally applied in the past, Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center, said it looks problematic.

“On the surface this appears to go against the Department of Education’s application that gender identity is protected under sex discrimination Title IX,” he said.

Title IX is the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in any federally funded education program. In 2014, the Department of Education extended the protections to transgender students.

Many states have passed laws allowing transgender student-athletes to play sports based on their identity.

As a graduate of the Texas public school system, I can say that UIL has often done silly things that waste people’s time and taxes patience. But I can’t say they’ve earnestly tried to get school districts sued.