County Council caving to paranoia

Four members of the Baltimore County Council want to exempt public bathrooms from anti-discrimination measure

February 15, 2012|Dan Rodricks

So wait: Are we going to have a genitalia check in Baltimore County before we get to use the restroom at McDonald's? Help me out, somebody. I might be confused — apparently, there's a lot of that going around these days — but I'm pretty sure I read these words in this very newspaper: "If your human anatomy is male, you should go to the [men's] room."

This eloquence soared from the lips of a Baltimore County council member — John A. Olszewski Sr., Democrat of Dundalk — who apparently thinks a proposed county law that would specifically prohibit discrimination against transgender people should not apply to public bathrooms and locker rooms.

Mr. Olszewski and three other members of the seven-member council favor amending the anti-discrimination bill to exempt those places.

That means people who own businesses with public restrooms and/or locker rooms (restaurants, stores, fitness centers) would have to become sexual identity cops.

If the manager of, say, a fast-food restaurant suspects that a female customer used to be a male — or if the manager suspects that a customer is in transition from one gender to another — that manager could prohibit a transgender female from using the women's restroom, force her to use the men's room or maybe even tell her to get lost altogether.

That's what it sounds like to me, and it sounds crazy.

Imagine the scenario: Someone whispers to the restaurant manager that a certain customer is "different." The manager knows his restrooms are exempt from county laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, workplaces and public places. He suspects that this "different" person might need to use a restroom, and he assumes she would want to use the women's room. Fearing this might give his other customers the creeps — because he's certainly creeped out by the whole thing — the manager tells his employees not to let their "different" customer use the women's room. And that could lead to a confrontation: The customer insists she's female, the manager demands proof and, there being only one way to provide a convincer ...

Well, you get the picture.

You can see the absurdity in this.

And yet we have the Baltimore County Council primed to put this exemption in a law that was filed to expressly protect people like Chrissy Lee Polis, the transgender woman who was beaten when she tried to use the bathroom at a RosedaleMcDonald's last April.

It sounds like Mr. Olszewski and the other three who support the exemption — Republicans Todd Huff of Lutherville and David Marks of Perry Hall, and Democrat Cathy Bevins ofMiddle River — have given too much weight to the paranoid arguments of the Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government. This is the group that refers to the anti-discrimination measure as a "dangerous Peeping Tom bill" that would open the doors of women's restrooms and locker rooms to cross-dressing perverts who would climb the walls of stalls to watch others do their business or carry out sexual attacks.

Of course, this stuff almost never happens. The Montgomery County police chief reported that, since his county adopted a similar anti-discrimination ordinance in 2007, there have been no reported rapes committed in restrooms by men in women's clothing.

I made a simple suggestion the other day in this space:

Transgender people should be allowed to use the public restrooms according to their gender identity. If they do something wrong while in there, they should be reported to the police. Otherwise, everyone should just do their business, wash their hands and get on with their lives..

Of course, not everyone agrees. Those who don't apparently see transsexuals, and anyone who takes up for them, as perverts.

In fact, that's what one reader named Steve — too cowardly to sign his full name — called me in an email on Sunday.

Another fellow named Will — no coward; he signed his full name — wrote to express dismay at what he called "excrementalism" (his clever term for progressive politics) and what could come next: "Will NAMBLA eventually be granted the right to have sex with little boys and tell everyone that it will have a positive effect on them as adults?" That's a reference to the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Will apparently thinks anyone who supports protecting transgender people from discrimination and violence must favor the rape of children.

So you see the tone and absurdity of the argument against this "bathroom bill" in Baltimore County — and why it's pathetic that four members of the County Council are persuaded by it.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this column misidentified the source of the quote "If your human anatomy is male, you should go to the [men's] room." The Sun regrets the error.

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