Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The DNC Emails … And Russian Involvement in American Politics

My personal Twitter troll has asked (demanded? challenged?) me to comment on the revelation that the staffers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) engaged in email discussions regarding the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders that included strategizing against his campaign. While I ordinarily like to follow a “don’t feed the trolls” approach, I thought that this issue was at least worth discussing (and, hey, it’s pretty cool that I have my own Twitter troll, isn’t it?). Before diving into the issues, let me offer one major caveat: I haven’t read the emails. I’ve read a few news stories and brief excerpts, but I’m sure that I don’t know all of the facts and, as always, I’m willing to reconsider my views as additional facts are learned or as mistakes that I make (as if!) are identified.

So, on to the emails…

It is my understanding that, at the heart of the matter, were discussions or even actions by some DNC staffers to either help Hillary Clinton’s campaign and/or hinder Bernie Sanders’ campaign together with some … er … less than generous descriptions of Sanders. Now, there is a part of me that says, “Gee, that’s not fair” and I certainly would like to think that the DNC would always play fair. But then there is the part of me that remembers that this is the Democratic National Committee and that, until he needed the ballot access that the Democratic Party had, Sen. Sanders was not a Democrat. Or, to phrase it differently, why shouldn’t the DNC work to help its own members to the detriment of an outsider? That point is even more compelling given the work that Hillary Clinton has done over the years both for the Democratic Party and for other Democrats. (And let’s not forget that Sanders endorsed the primary challenger for the House seat held by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so I think she can be forgiven at least a bit of pique directed toward Sanders.)

As to the notion that the primary system was rigged, the only answer is “bullshit”. The primary system was in place long before Sanders announced his candidacy. He knew what the system was; he didn’t have to run and he didn’t have to run as a Democrat. But he did. He could have sought the nomination of the Green Party or run as an independent, but that wouldn’t have given him the ballot access he needed or the ability to get the sort of news coverage that helped propel his campaign. And let’s not forget the allegations from several months ago that the Sanders campaign was, itself, hacking into the DNC database to obtain information improperly. I guess that was OK, right? Look, I’m not saying that the democratic primary system is a good system or that it shouldn’t be modified. But the system was the same for Martin O’Malley, Lawrence Lessig, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and others, and I don’t recall hearing their supporters whining about the system or booing the party’s leaders at its convention.

I also find it interesting that so many of the people who are almost giddy about the disclosure of these emails from the DNC seem to so quickly gloss over the apparent source. The emails were released by WikiLeaks. Now, first, we should think back to what people had to say about WikiLeaks when it was responsible for other document dumps; I recall hearing plenty of people call for criminal prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (and accusations that he was a “traitor” even though he isn’t American). I wrote about the massive WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables in December 2010 (Wikileaks? I’m Not Sure). Yet apparently, if the information WikiLeaks discloses harms those who you oppose on political grounds then that disclosure is peachy keen. if would be interesting to see how people would react if WikiLeaks were able to obtain and disclose Donald Trump’s tax returns (especially if they included something damaging). But I digress.

More important is the source from which WikiLeaks itself apparently received the emails in the first place. WikiLeaks doesn’t do the hacking; rather WikiLeaks discloses documents obtained by hackers. And in this case, there is apparently ample evidence that the hackers who took the emails from the DNC are part of the Russian intelligence services, in particular the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and the GRU (military intelligence), both under the control of Vladimir Putin … you know, the same man to whom Donald Trump, just a few days ago, gave a green light to invade our NATO allies (Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?). As Arsenio Hall once said, “Things that make you go ‘Hmm.’” Don’t forget the extent to which Trump has praised Putin, so much so that the phrase “bromance” has been used to describe Trump’s relationship with Putin (or maybe it’s just a mancrush). So was the release of the emails to WikiLeaks the quo for Trump’s quid suggestion that he might abandon NATO and the Baltic states?

Think back to when Edward Snowden stole data from the NSA before fleeing, eventually to Russia. How many of you called him a traitor? How many of you worried about Russia having access to the information he obtained? Yet now, some people (mostly those opposed to Democrats in general or Hillary Clinton in particular) are practically cheering over Russia hacking into data belonging to a political party (including, donor data, opposition research, and the personal email accounts of Democratic staffers)? Really? I seem to recall that the last time criminal activity was aimed at obtaining private information from one of the political parties, things didn’t end so well. For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, here is a hint: The data one party tried to steal was located in an office located at the Watergate hotel. Ring any bells?

One thing, however, that really troubles me about the information in the emails is the apparent discussion about using Sanders’ religion (or atheism, perhaps) as a weapon against him. That sort of conduct is reprehensible. Period. The saving grace, I suppose, is that it doesn’t appear that this discussion evolved into actual action; rather, from what I’ve read, it appears to have been a suggestion made as part of a strategy discussion that was not followed up. But to even discuss using a person’s religion against them (or their lack of faith, as the case may be), is simply un-American and wrong.

A critical thing that must be recognized about this entire mess is that the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. And then the interim chairwoman of the DNC, Donna Brazile apologized. Publicly and sincerely. While people cannot go back and change what happened, they can take responsibility, apologize, and learn from mistakes. So far, that appears to be what the DNC is doing in the wake of these disclosures.

Of course, noting that the chair of the DNC resigned and that the DNC’s new chair apologized does make me wonder when we’ll see similar actions from Republicans in regard to the xenophobia, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and so forth being spewed by the Republican Party’s candidate and his supporters. I’m not holding my breath.

I do hope that over the next days and weeks we will learn more detail about possible Russian involvement in the hack of the DNC servers. Perhaps more importantly, I hope that we’ll learn more about whether the Trump campaign had any knowledge about that hacking or any involvement in the decision to disclose the emails (I certainly hope that not even Trump would stoop that low…). But even if the Republicans and the Trump campaign were completely in the dark and innocent, we should have a serious national discussion about why Russia might want to harm Democrats or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What did Russia hope to gain by hacking the DNC servers and what did Russia hope to gain by releasing the stolen emails to WikiLeaks for public dissemination. And ask yourself if you’re comfortable knowing that another country, and especially Russia, is inserting itself, via its intelligence agencies, into the American political system and presidential election. Does that scare you as much as it scares me?

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?

In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech to the National Press Club in which he articulated the United States’ defense perimeter in Asia. However, when Acheson described the defense perimeter, he excluded South Korea. Several months later, North Korea (backed by the USSR) invaded South Korea. Most historians cite Acheson’s exclusion of South Korea from the defense perimeter as one of the important factors that led the decision by North Korea and the USSR to invade the South, operating under the perception that the United States would not intervene militarily because South Korea was outside the Asian defense perimeter.

In July 1990, April Glaspie, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, told her Iraqi counterpart that the United States did not have an opinion on Iraq’s escalating dispute with Kuwait (over oil) and that the United States would not start an economic war against Iraq. Most historians cite Glaspie’s comments as one of the important factors that led Saddam Hussein to conclude that the United States would not intervene in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Why do I cite these two historical examples of comments that led to war? Consider what Donald Trump told The New York Times yesterday:

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

How do you think Vladimir Putin will view those comments by Trump? How do you think our NATO and other treaty allies will view those comments?

From my perspective, Trump just told our allies that they may not be able to rely upon the United States and essentially gave our adversaries (or potential enemies) carte blanche to take aggressive actions without fear of intervention by the United States. Trump’s statement is even more dangerous than the statements of Acheson or Glaspie because in those instances, the United States wasn’t suggesting that it would ignore treaty obligations. Moreover, those statements dealt with Korea and Kuwait, not Europe and not America’s most important defense alliance.

Perhaps Trump isn’t aware that Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides that an attack on one NATO member is deemed to be an attack on all NATO members and obligates the other NATO members to assist the country that was attacked. And perhaps Trump doesn’t understand that a treaty has the force of law; complying with treaty obligations isn’t optional. But if he isn’t aware of such a cornerstone element of our national defense structure, then he certainly isn’t qualified to be the Commander-in-Chief. And if he is aware of what Article 5 means and he is still willing to suggest that it might be ignored, then he is … well … dangerous isn’t quite a strong enough word. Perhaps his machismo is spoiling for an armed confrontation with Vladimir Putin and the Russian bear. I just hope America is ready to pay the bill of blood and treasure when Trump’s statements or inaction lead to the armed conflict.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t make efforts to have our NATO allies fulfill their treaty obligations. They should and we should try to hold them to the terms of the treaty. But to suggest that failure to pay a bill is reason enough to abandon that country to a Russian invasion is lunacy. Dangerous lunacy. (Of course, Trump’s business modus operandi appears to be to leave bills unpaid, so this is something he should be quite familiar with…)

When Donald Trump opens his mouth, what we hear is hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and a complete lack of understanding of the complex issues facing our nation and the world. He’s already suggested that nuclear proliferation to South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, might be a good idea. These statements about NATO are just the most recent example. And you can bet that Vladimir Putin and the people of Europe heard Trump loud and clear. I just wonder how far into Europe Russian tanks will be permitted to drive during a Trump presidency.

And I wonder whether any country would ever trust America again.

Is that what Trump means when he talks about making American great again?

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Brexit the Beginning of the End of the UK … or of Other Countries?

So citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Good or bad? Right or wrong? I’m not sure and I’m not sure that I really know enough to make an informed judgment. That being said, my instinct is to view the decision to leave the European Union as a bad decision (and the fact that both Donald Trump and Sarah Palin think that Brexit is good is almost enough reason for me to believe that it isn’t). I must admit that I find interesting the exit polling that showed apparent strong correlations between both age and education and the choice of whether to remain or leave (more education and younger voters tended to vote to stay, while older and less educated voters tended to vote to leave). But what the long term effects will be for the UK economy, for the European economy, for the global economy … I have no clue.

I do, however, have some concerns about what Brexit may mean both with regard to the stability of nation-states and to relations between them.

Let me address the latter of those two points first. One of the principal motivations for the original formation of what eventually evolved into the European Union was the notion of finding ways to avoid future conflicts within Europe and by and among European countries. The European Union has been largely successful in that ambition. But consider how things might look once the United Kingdom is fully divorced from those European nations that remain a part of the European Union. For example, what sort of hard feelings may exist by and between Britons and Europeans? If Europe’s economy stagnates and the United Kingdom’s flourishes (I have my doubts…), won’t many Europeans have a sense of … well, anger, I suppose, toward the United Kingdom? Similarly, if the UK’s economy stagnates and Europe grows, then how will Britons feel when they look across the Channel?

Perhaps more importantly, what sort of cooperation existing today might become strained or even cease? For example, think of the large migrant camps in northern France, populated by refugees and immigrants seeking to make their way to England. France has worked hard to try to keep those migrant camps stable and to help the UK keep mass waves of immigrants and refugees from making their way across the Channel. Part of the reason for that is good relations between the UK and France and part of the reason for that was the pan-European approach to dealing with immigration and refugees. But if the UK is no longer part of the European Community, what, if any, duty to does France have (let alone Italy or Spain or Greece) to help the United Kingdom deal with “unwanted” immigrants and refugees? Likely, none. Given that a motivating factor for many Britons who voted to leave the European Union was the desire to deal with immigration without interference from the European Union, then how ironic will it be if France chooses to cease its efforts to prevent immigrants and refugees from embarking on journeys across the Channel to England? (And it seems just as likely that those countries might actually opt to find ways to help immigrants transit their territory for Britain, in order to try to lessen their own refugee and immigrant burdens.)

I can also see other possibilities for European countries to sort of lash out in petty revenge against the United Kingdom if Brexit is viewed as damaging those countries. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised to see countries adopt tariffs or other fees on British goods or even travel by Britons within Europe (which could come as a real shock to Britons who have purchased vacation properties in Spain). Or, just imagine if FIFA (the world body governing soccer … er … football) were to decide that because the United Kingdom no longer views itself as being a part of Europe, that soccer clubs from the United Kingdom would not be eligible to play in the European Champions League or the UEFA Euro Cup?

Based on the last millennia or so, anything that gives one European country a reason to act in anger against another European country is … um … not good.

I also worry that the Brexit vote may, over time, begin a slide into the fracturing of stability within Europe and elsewhere.

In September 2014, Scotland voted, 55% to 45%, to remain a part of the United Kingdom. There were many factors at play in that vote, but one that appeared to play prominently was the role an independent Scotland would be able (or perhaps unable) to play within the European economy and global markets. It was pointed out that an independent Scotland would not be a part of the European Union and would, thus, not be able to avail itself of free trade and the other benefits of membership in the European Union (at least until going through the difficult and multi-year process of joining the EU). Thus is probably isn’t surprising that last week Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Each of Scotland’s voting districts voted to remain and the results weren’t terribly close (62-38 to remain, compared to 53-47 in England). But the United Kingdom voted to leave. So where does that leave Scotland?

The leader of Scotland’s Parliament (the “First Minister”, I believe) has already called for a second Scottish referendum on independence. I suspect that such a referendum will be held and I also suspect that in a post-Brexit vote, Scots will, indeed, vote to make their own way.

Is that good or bad? I don’t know.

But if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom, what then of Northern Ireland? Like Scotland, Northern Ireland also voted to remain a part of the European Union (56-44 to stay). So, were Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, might Northern Ireland contemplate doing the same and, perhaps, even seeking to unify with Ireland which is a part of the European Union and with which many Irish have a closer bond that the government in London?

Those actions would, quite obviously, have a significant impact on the United Kingdom, reducing it down to just England and Wales (and who knows how long Wales would want to stick around…). But how might the democratic dissolution of the United Kingdom impact independence movements elsewhere in Europe? Consider Belgium which is essentially divided into two distinct communities (roughly dividing the country in half geographically, south and north), one French-speaking (Walloons) and the other Dutch-speaking (Flemish). The divide between the French and Flemish within Belgium has risen to near-crisis levels in the past. Query whether watching the disintegration of the United Kingdom might, once again, prompt calls for Flemish independence.

Or consider Catalonia, the northeastern part of Spain, with its capital in Barcelona. Catalans speak a different language from the rest of Spain, they don’t permit bullfighting, and, perhaps even more importantly, find themselves in a much different economic condition than the rest of the country. Might the rending of the United Kingdom give further impetus and strength to the already quite vocal and popular Catalan independence movement?

Of course if Catalonia were to become independent, that might reinvigorate the independence desires of the neighboring Basque region of Spain and France. Or, just to the southeast, perhaps the independence movements of Corsica and Sardinia (from France and Italy, respectively) would find succor in the example of Scotland.

In fact, the number of independence movements across Europe is almost too numerous to count and includes both large areas (Bavaria in Germany, South Tyrol in Italy) and tiny (Faroe Islands in Denmark, Venice in Italy); I even came across a reference to a independence movement for the Åland Islands, a tiny chain of islands between Sweden and Finland that presently belongs to Finland, but whose 28,000 inhabitants speak Swedish (but an acquaintance of mine who lives in Åland assures me that it is merely a “romantic protest”).

In any event, I think that the concern (or hope, I suppose, depending on your perspective) of the tearing asunder of European countries and the reformation into something … well … different, is worth contemplating. The goal of the European Union was a form of European unity, but that is splintering and it is quite likely the first breach of the unity of the European Union may also lead to the splintering of the United Kingdom. And as people across Europe — or even the world — watch Scotland and perhaps Northern Island pressing for independence, then it seems quite likely that independence movements will be strengthened and, quite possibly, the political structures of the world will see dramatic changes.

One commonly used phrase to describe the breaking apart of countries into smaller nations is “Balkanization” and that word is used for a reason. However, consider if you will, the history of the Balkans and whether that worked out for the best or not.

I don’t know what the results of Brexit will be for the United Kingdom, Scotland, Europe, or the world. But I have concerns that this will be the first act in a drama that may result in a period of chaos and contention.

But please, don’t get me started on the discussion of Texit (Texas exiting the United States). Just … don’t.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Some of My Previous Posts on Guns and Gun Control

In the days and months following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, I spent a lot of time writing about guns. In the wake of the most recent shooting in Orlando, I thought that I’d gather the links to some of those and other posts on gun control. I really hope that finally there will be enough public anger to compel Congress to do something, but if nothing else, perhaps linking to these prior posts will offer a chance for a discussion and debate about the issues.

Of particular interest should be the post Guns in America: Background Check System Excludes Those on the Terrorist Watch Lists (April 24, 2013) which is obviously highly relevant to the current debate.


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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Trump’s Racist Attacks on the Federal Judiciary

Donald Trump is, quite rightly, being excoriated for his racist attacks on the judge presiding over one of the lawsuits against Trump University. However, that criticism has been largely limited to the straightforward racism of Trump’s attacks and has, sadly, ignored his broader attack on the federal judiciary in general, his threats against judges who Trump doesn’t like, and the implications of his suggestion of conflicts-of-interest on the basis of race or other motivational interest. Trump’s attacks aren’t just limited to a particular judge; rather, he is attacking one of the co-equal branches of government and attempting to subvert its independence and ability to function. One must, therefore, wonder — if not fear — what a Trump presidency would look like were a federal judge (or the Supreme Court) to rule against Trump or a Trump policy.

Criticism of judges is fine and there is certainly a long precedent of American citizens, politicians, and elected officials doing so. One of the most famous recent criticisms of a judicial decision came from President Obama during the 2010 State of the Union speech, in which President Obama expressed his views of the recent Citizens United decision:

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.

That criticism by President Obama was, itself, subject to intense debate and critique. But note that President Obama did not question the integrity of the justices or impugn their reputations or motivations. He criticized the decision and what he perceived the effects would be, but he didn’t accuse them of ruling the way that they did because of their skin color, ethnic heritage, religion, or animus to Hillary Clinton (who, if you’ll recall was the target of the video at issue in Citizens United).

Now, compare that sort of criticism to the way Trump attacked the judge presiding over a Trump University case (internal links omitted):

“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd of several thousand booed. “He is not doing the right thing. And I figure, what the hell? Why not talk about it for two minutes?”

Mr. Trump spoke for far more than two minutes about Judge Curiel and the Trump University case–he devoted 12 minutes of a 58-minute address to the litigation….

“We’re in front of a very hostile judge,” Mr. Trump said. “The judge was appointed by Barack Obama, federal judge. Frankly, he should recuse himself because he’s given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative.”

Mr. Trump also told the audience, which had previously chanted the Republican standard-bearer’s signature “build that wall” mantra in reference to Mr. Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, that Judge Curiel is “Mexican.”

“What happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine,” Mr. Trump said.

Judge Curiel was born in Indiana.

Mr. Trump told the crowd he looks forward to returning to San Diego for the trial in November and asked for an investigation into Judge Curiel for reasons he did not specify.

“I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK? But we’ll come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. OK. This is called life, folks.”

Recognize that this wasn’t a one-time event, either; Trump has repeated these sorts of criticisms multiple times, including this (emphasis added):

I think the judge has been extremely hostile to me. I think it has to do with the fact I'm very, very strong on the border, and he happens to be extremely hostile to me. We have a very hostile judge. He is Hispanic, and he is very hostile to me.

See a difference? President Obama criticized the decision of the Supreme Court, and discussed his concerns about the effects of that decision, but he did not suggest that individual justices were biased or “haters” and he certainly didn’t suggest that any of the justices was unable to act impartially because of race or religion. And President Obama did not offer an implicit or veiled threat against any of the justices. But Trump has done all of that and more. Repeatedly.

There has been plenty written and discussed about just how wrong and un-American are Trump’s attacks against the judge on the basis of race and ethnicity. Yet we can’t forget that Trump went even further and also claimed that Muslim judges might also be biased against him:

Mr. Dickerson asked Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, if a Muslim judge would be similarly biased because of Mr. Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. “It’s possible, yes,” Mr. Trump said. “Yeah. That would be possible. Absolutely.”

But rather than focusing simply on Trump’s unabashed bigotry, I want to focus first on the suggestion that race, heritage, or religion can create inherent conflicts of interest among judges. Let me begin by quoting myself in my post Addressing a Few Red Herrings (August 5, 2010) written following the original challenge to California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage when some argued that the judge who decided that case had a conflict-of-interest because he was gay.

Why is it that when it comes to litigation involving social issues, straight, Anglo-Protestant white males are never seen as being biased, but a judge who is black or Jewish or female or gay is biased, often for no other reason that the fact that the judge is black or Jewish or female or gay?

Or think of it this way: Must every woman judge recuse herself from a rape case? Must every Jewish judge recuse himself from a case involving church-state issues? Must every Hispanic judge recuse himself from an immigration case? Must a black judge recuse himself from every lawsuit alleging racial discrimination? And with your answer to that last query in mind, must every white judge recuse himself from a case alleging racial discrimination if one of the parties is … um … white? And, by all of that reasoning, shouldn’t any straight judge have been forced to recuse himself precisely because he wasn’t gay?

Those who argue bias of this sort are either so blinded by their own bias and bigotry or simply cannot recognize that, in order for our system to work at all, we must all have faith in the impartiality of our judiciary. That a judge disagrees with us doesn’t mean bias; it means that judge judges a particular issue differently that you or I might. It doesn’t mean bias. But if we start seeing bias in every judge solely on the basis of that judge’s color or religion or DNA, then it won’t be long before our judicial system becomes a joke and the respect for the rule of law on which the foundations of our country are supported will rot away.

Donald Trump doesn’t understand any of that. Rather, it would seem that in the America that he envisages, the only judges who can be relied upon to offer impartial rulings and justice would be judges who share race, religion, heritage, and political viewpoints with those being judged. Or maybe good Aryan (or at least male White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) judges would be exempt from being scrutinized from conflicts-of-interest because of their majority status, right? Of course one has to wonder whether that Aryan or WASP might have a predisposed bias in favor of Trump; after all, shouldn’t we expect that all whites would be supportive of his positions of wanting to keep American racially pure out Latino immigrants and those of disfavored religions? I mean, if we can presume that judges of Mexican heritage or of the Muslim faith would be biased against Trump because of his political positions, then shouldn’t we presume that those of European heritage or of the Christian faith would be biased toward Trump for the same reason? Isn’t that really the argument that he is making? As Philip Klein noted in The Washington Examiner:

Trump could just as easily be arguing that a Jewish judge is against him because he refuses to be beholden to Jewish donors. Or an American Asian judge is against him because he wants to get tough on China. Or an Irish Catholic judge is against him because of his attacks on Pope Francis. Effectively, anybody who isn't a white Protestant of European ancestry can be a target of Trump's ethnic and racial attacks.

So let’s tease out the ramifications of Trump’s argument that judges can’t be relied upon to be impartial based on their race, heritage, religion, or reactions to the political views of a party appearing before the judge. Essentially, the ramifications become quite simple: Our entire judicial system ceases to function and the rule of law, for which our system is an absolute model and light among the nations, becomes but a quaint relic of bygone days. If Americans are taught that they can’t trust the impartiality of judges, especially judges who look different or pray to a different god, then the rulings of those judges may never be accepted. People will refuse to recognize decisions from “biased” judges and those ruling may, thus, become not worth the paper they are printed on. How long before someone says, “I’m not going to follow the judge’s order because he was biased against me?” In our hyper-polarized present, how long before some legislature or sheriff buys into this sort of viewpoint?

You see, one of most important responsibilities of our elected officials is to help provide to the public the sense that our system works. Sure, there may be bumps. Politics may get ugly and messy. Judges may get things wrong and legislators may not always reflect the will of the people. Executives may direct their offices and agents to do things that some will object to. But on the whole, there remains the notion that the system as a whole works. But now we have a situation where one of the major party’s candidate for President is essentially arguing that one of the co-equal branches of the government, the same branch that we rely upon to stop the unchecked power of the executive branch, doesn’t work because of racial or religious bias. The idea of a major party candidate arguing, not that the policy goals of the other party are wrong, but that a branch of the government can’t properly function because of bias, is absolutely unprecedented. And scary.

Consider the comments of David Post, a retired law professor:

“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” Mr. Post said. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.”

“If he is signaling that that is not his position, that’s a very serious constitutional problem,” Mr. Post said.

Then, as if all of that wasn’t enough, we also have Trump’s threat against Judge Cureil.

Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. OK. This is called life, folks.”

I’m not really sure what Trump meant here (for that matter, Trump’s … um … creative grammar often leaves me a bit befuddled, but that’s a blog for another day), but it does seem like some kind of threat against the judge. Is Trump saying that, after the election, he would sue the judge? Or is he talking about impeachment (“where everybody likes it”)? It’s hard to know. But the notion that a candidate for President is suggesting, even implicitly, that he might try to use the power of the office to retaliate against a member of the federal judiciary should be absolutely chilling to anyone who values the functioning of our system. We need judges who are unafraid to issue difficult rulings and who aren’t influenced by the politics surrounding them. That is one of the reasons that federal judges are appointed to a lifetime term. Now we have a candidate for President who seems willing to throw politics into the functioning of the judiciary. And note that we’re not talking about a case like Citizens United that deals with constitutional issues and the election process; rather, Trump’s concerns arise from a case against one of his businesses for fraud.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, disgruntled farmers and members of the early version of the militia movement (and later so-called “sovereign citizen” movement) began taking actions against judges (both state and federal) who, among other things, issued decrees of foreclosure. These actions often took the form of fake liens against the judges’ properties, thus making it difficult for the judges to sell or refinance their houses. Citizen “grand juries” popped up to issue “warrants” against judges. States like Indiana that fell prey to these shenanigans had to enact laws to protect judges (and others). And now Donald Trump seems to be suggesting that if he doesn’t get his way, it will once again be open season on judges … or at least on judges who don’t rule the way Donald Trump thinks that they should.

As I was thinking about this subject last night, I wondered about the precedent that Trump seems to be setting without necessarily realizing it. Think of it this way: Let’s say that I become party to a lawsuit following a traffic accident. And let’s say that the judge presiding over that case is Asian. Now, when that judge issues a ruling with which I disagree, rather than appealing that ruling or otherwise acting within the bounds of the legal system, if I follow Trump’s lead, I should argue that the judge is a “hater” who is a “disgrace” that only gives me “negative” rulings. But then, when the judge refuses to reverse course or to recuse himself, I guess I should start making bigoted anti-Asian comments after which I should argue that the judge has an inherent conflict-of-interest or bias against me because of what I’ve said. Or, to put it even more simply, if I have a judge that I don’t like, I should walk up to that judge and tell him that he is an ignorant asshole who should go fuck his mother, and then I should demand that he recuse himself because my comments and actions may have biased the judge against me. Isn’t that really Trump’s argument here? That judges of Mexican heritage will be inherently biased against Trump because of Trump’s political views? It will be nice to know that if I’m ever sued, I can use my political views to be sure that only a Democratic Jewish judge will be able to preside over my case.

I also want to touch briefly on one other red herring argument that seems to be getting some traction, namely that Judge Curiel’s membership in a Latino bar association group (note that the group to which he belongs is the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association and not the national National Council of La Raza (an advocacy organization)) is enough to demonstrate bias and some sort of implicit reverse racism (as if by being a member of a Latino organization implies racism against non-Latinos). Of course, that argument ignores the existence of groups like the Italian American Bar Association, German American Bar Association, Chicago Irish American Bar Association, Asian American Bar Association of New York, American Catholic Lawyers Association, J. Reuben Clark Law Society (a Mormon organization), or the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. And yes, I could go on and on. For the record, I’ve occasionally attended a luncheon (well, really an opportunity to each a Shapiro’s corned beef sandwich) under the auspices of the Jewish Lawyers Luncheon group in Indianapolis. Judges are also people. They are part of their community and that community may include their religion, their ethnic heritage, or their kids’ soccer team. But to suggest that a judge is inherently biased because he is an active member of his community is itself a sort of racist dog whistle to those who argue that the “real racists” are members of minority communities and not the white or Christian majorities.

Donald Trump can criticize judges all he wants. That’s fair. But his criticism shouldn’t — can’t — be based in racism or bigotry, it can’t — not if Trump believes in our system of government — call into question the actual functioning of the judicial branch or the belief in the rule of law, and it absolutely can’t include threats, implicit or explicit, that he will use the power of the office of the President to retaliate against judges who don’t agree to jump to Trump’s tune. Yet the continued exhortation to racism and bigotry and attacks against the functioning of our governmental system just makes ever more clear that Trump really is nothing more than a fascist. And I, for one, am not willing to risk the America that I know for the whims of an egotistical, narcissistic, racist, fascist like Donald Trump.

Please help me make sure that he is not elected President.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Trump Implicitly Condones Anti-Semitism (part 3): The Hate Continues

I wonder how Donald Trump will respond when, sometime in the not too distant future, one of his grandchildren asks him, “Zadie* Donald, why do some of your supporters hate Jews … like me?” I wonder how Ivanka will answer her children when they ask why Zadie didn’t tell his supporters to stop saying anti-Semitic things. It could make for some uncomfortable Passover Seder conversation in years to come, don’t you think?

Earlier this month, I posted Trump Implicitly Condones Anti-Semitism and Trump Implicitly Condones Anti-Semitism (redux): The Use of Stereotypes. Sadly, since publishing those posts, the situation has only gotten worse.

My initial post came on the heels of an outpouring of anti-Semitic abuse directed at a reporter who wrote an article about Melania Trump. I wrote about Donald Trump declining an offer to give a message to his “fans” about the anti-Semitism they were spewing in his name. Since then, not only has the situation not gotten better, it has gotten demonstrably worse. For example, when asked, indirectly, about anti-Semitism directed at the reporter who interviewed and wrote about her, Melania Trump didn’t do much to repudiate the anti-Semitism (emphasis added):

“I don’t control my fans,” Melania says, “but I don’t agree with what they’re doing. I understand what you mean, but there are people out there who maybe went too far. She provoked them.”

Now to casual readers, this may seem a fairly innocuous statement, but Jewish readers are most likely very familiar with Melania’s final claim of provocation. You see, Jews have been blamed for causing or provoking anti-Semitism for millennia. Literally. Read any anti-Semitic hate site and you’ll quickly come across charges that Jews bear the blame for anti-Semitism (see, for example, one of the images posted below, asking why Jews have been expelled from countries over the millennia). The best that Melania can say is that she doesn’t “agree” with what her fans are “doing” (you know, like making death threats or posting images of Julia Ioffe as a prisoner at Auschwitz) and that such people “maybe went too far”. Maybe. Or maybe not, I suppose, right? And Donald? He told Megyn Kelly that anti-Semitic and other abuse directed at reporters and others is “in response to something that they did.” In other words, in Trump’s view, anti-Semitism and other verbal abuse is acceptable if it is in response to something he (or his fans) view with disfavor.

Is that the kind of country we want? One in which someone who expresses an opinion contrary to that of a particular demagogue politician becomes the target of vicious hate?

Ah, but that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the continued failure by Trump and his inner circle to try to stop the virulent anti-Semitism being spewed in Trump’s name. For example, consider the following:


Josh Greenman is an opinion editor for the New York Daily News. He posted some graphs of analysis from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center about Trump’s tax policy proposals. In response, an apparent Trump supporter (with an avatar that included a “Make America Great Again” hat and a profile that includes “MAGA” [the acronym for Make America Great Again]) responded simply:


Greenman replied, asking the Trump supporter not to “hold back” and received this reply:

Your time as the gate keeper is up. Bolshevik propagandists like yourself are a blight on America. Move to Israel.

In other words, for the horrible act of posting an tax policy analyst’s results of an examination of the tax policy articulated by a major party candidate for President, a reporter was labeled “Jew” (and clearly that was meant as an epithet) and communist and targeted with the classic anti-Semitic canards of undue influence and control, causing harm to the country in which he resides, and dual loyalty with Israel. One reporter. One tweet. And not even his own tax analysis. Just retweeting what a respected tax analyst published. What might have happened if Greenman said something really critical about a Trump policy? What might happen if a reporter like Greenman were to publish something critical of a President Trump? Kind of chilling to think about, no?

Then we come to perhaps the most extreme incident (at least of the last few weeks). On May 18, 2016, The Washington Post printed a column by Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post entitled “This is how fascism comes to America”. The column, and Kagan’s warnings and conclusions, make for interesting reading. The column concludes (internal link omitted):

This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.

Jonathan Weisman, a deputy Washington editor for The New York Times tweeted a link to Kagan’s column, including a sentence from that conclusion. The flood of hate was not long in coming. It began with a Twitter user who, like the person described above who interacted with Josh Greenman, also has an avatar with a “Make America Great Again” hat and a nearly identical profile (which is common among a certain class of Trump supporters) who simply tweeted to Weisman:

Hello (( Weisman ))

Weisman apparently didn’t recognize that the use of multiple parenthesis around a name or term is a popular meme within the anti-Semitic and white supremacist movement to denote a Jew or a supposedly Jewish-controlled business or institution. So Weisman took the bait:

Care to explain?

So the Trump supporter did just that:

What ho, the vaunted ashkenazi intelligence, hahaha! It's a dog whistle, fool. Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.

(I had to look it up, but apparently “belling the cat” as used here describes the “collective action problem” or “the situation in which multiple individuals would all benefit from a certain action, but has an associated cost making it implausible that any individual can or will undertake and solve it alone. The ideal solution is then to undertake this as a collective action, the cost of which is shared.”)

Weisman then spent the next eight hours or so retweeting some of the anti-Semitic hate directed his way from a number of different people. Here are just a few of the tweets and images Weisman highlighted with his retweets (see The Washington Post and Haaretz for additional details):

  • all kike-americans that would put Israhell first should be dropped from a helicopter over Tel Aviv
  • Poor @jonathanweisman is 4 open borders, sexual degeneracy, and turning the US into 3rd world shithole. Elite Jews went 2 far and have 2 go.
  • Real conservatives principles demand ovening the jews.
  • Savagery is their nature; being from Central Asia they were selected for sociopathic cutthroatedness.
  • I’m not anti-Semitic. I love Semitic groups like SSNP and Hezbollah that kill filthy Jews
  • in fact, Jews are the biggest murderers of Levantines, so it’s pro-Semitic to hate them.
  • Roughly 85% of #Jews consistently vote as #progressives, hence aren’t fit to be American citizens.
  • after the Mexicans and Muslims you filth are next.
  • you must be very thirsty without your daily feeding of blood.
  • Parasites don't know any better. Its just in their nature. You have to get rid of them to survive.
  • You’ve been indoctrinating Jews and goyim with guilt and milking the “Holocaust” for 7 decades.
  • Jews have foisted debt, immigration, & war upon us for 100 years. The pendulum has begun to swing back, and it is glorious.
  • Yeah I don’t mind that a bunch of pornographers, moneychangers and 5th columnists got what they had coming.

Ci1uU6AU4AA5Upl.jpg large



The following exchange sort of neatly summarizes how the exchanges went. At one point, Weisman tweeted about the outpouring of anti-Semitism flooding his Twitter feed:

Generations of American Jews did not believe this still existed til now.

That tweet was in response to one that said:

FAR better to welcome #Facism here than to continue along the #JEW created #Marxism road

And the response to Weisman’s tweet about the continued existence of anti-Semitism:

get used to it you fucking kike. You people will be made to pay for the violence and fraud you’ve committed against us.

So now that the expression of virulent and repulsive anti-Semitism from Trump supporters is being talked about on Twitter and, more importantly, in periodicals like The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Review, The Atlantic, Haaretz, and others, you’d expect some kind of response from Trump, his campaign, and/or his more mainstream supporters. Yet Trump has said … nothing. Still. Given how rapidly Trump usually responds (especially on Twitter) to stories that he disagrees with or which anger him, it seems almost impossible that he isn’t aware of either the discussion of anti-Semitism among his “fans” or the criticism of him for failing to repudiate that anti-Semitism. Don’t forget that Wolf Blitzer gave Trump a chance to say something. And yet … silence.

And it is a dangerous silence because Trump’s anti-Semitic “fans” take that silence as acceptance of or even incitement for more of that behavior. And query whether, sometime soon, that silence will become a matter of incitement for … something worse. Query what happens if Trump is elected and has the power of the government at his disposal.

It seems that almost every day I come across more examples of anti-Semitism from Trump supporters, often aimed at members of the media (who, you’ll recall, Trump regularly lambasts as “dishonest” or worse). For example, Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted about an email that he received telling him that if Trump is elected, Goldberg will be “sent to a camp”. ThinkProgress reported on a number of its reporters who received anti-Semitic comments from Trump supporters:

Kira Lerner and Alice Ollstein — both political reporters and both Jewish — say they have encountered anti-Semitic remarks online while covering Trump.

“I immediately blocked them,” Ollstein said. She pointed out that the attacks were unique to this election season, noting, “I’ve been reporting in Washington, DC for six years, and this is the only time it’s ever happened to me — either in person or online.”

The same is true for Bryce Covert, ThinkProgress’ economics editor. Covert says she received a deluge of anti-Semitic tweets in May after she published an op-ed in the New York Times decrying Trump’s policy agenda as disproportionately benefiting white men. The tweets personally attacked her for being Jewish and referenced her family — even though she never mentioned her Jewish heritage (she’s half-Jewish) in the story.

“The Trump supporters had to really dig deep to figure out that I’m Jewish,” Covert said. “They unearthed this tweet of mine from months ago referencing my Jewish grandma.”

“I haven’t gotten any anti-semitism in my mentions for writing about any other candidate,” she added.

ThinkProgress made this further observation:

The connection between Trump and internet-based anti-Semitism has gotten so bad that The Donald’s name and image is now brandished as an excuse to unleash insults whether or not he is being discussed. In mid-May, a Twitter account sporting an image of Trump attacked a Jewish reporter at the Charleston Post and Courier for commenting on shifting opinions regarding the Confederate flag, tweeting, “I guess daddy didn't love her enough to get her a nosejob for her Bar Mitzvah.” The account’s bio notes that liberals should be sent “straight to the ovens.”

Jake Tapper, John Podhoretz, Noah Rothman, Dana Milbank, and others have all reported increased anti-Semitism directed their way, apparently from Trump supporters.

And before you tell yourself that this vitriolic hate is directed only at the “liberal media” consider the experiences of Ben Shapiro (I can’t believe I’m quoting him here…), one of the more notorious “journalists” on the right (he is a former editor of Breitbart), published in National Review:

I was wrong.

I’ve spent most of my career arguing that anti-Semitism in the United States is almost entirely a product of the political Left. I’ve traveled across the country from Iowa to Texas; I’ve rarely seen an iota of true anti-Semitism. I’ve sensed far more anti-Jewish animus from leftist college students at the University of California, Los Angeles, than from churches in Valencia. As an observer of President Obama’s thoroughgoing anti-Israel administration, I could easily link the anti-Semitism of the Left to its disdain for both Biblical morality and Israeli success over its primary Islamist adversaries. The anti-Semitism I’d heard about from my grandparents — the country-club anti-Semitism, the alleged white-supremacist leanings of rednecks from the backwoods — was a figment of the imagination, I figured.

I figured wrong.

Donald Trump’s nomination has drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork.

I’ve experienced more pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism since coming out against Trump’s candidacy than at any other time in my political career. Trump supporters have threatened me and other Jews who hold my viewpoint. They’ve blown up my e-mail inbox with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They greeted the birth of my second child by calling for me, my wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber.

Yes, seriously.

This isn’t a majority of Trump supporters, obviously. It’s not even a large minority. But there is a significant core of Trump support that not only traffics in anti-Semitism but celebrates it — and god-worships Trump as the leader of an anti-Jewish movement.

Shapiro continues on before concluding:

Now, this doesn’t mean that Trump is an anti-Semite. No politician is responsible for all those who follow him.

But politicians become responsible for movements when they pat those movements on the head. Trump has done that repeatedly. When Trump refused to condemn David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan days before the Louisiana primary, then blamed it on his earpiece, that was a signal to his anti-Semitic base. When Trump retweets accounts heavily connected to white supremacism, his anti-Semitic base celebrates. When he appears on national television and refuses to condemn his supporters’ anti-Semitic death threats against a reporter (“I don’t know anything about that … I don’t have a message to the fans”), his anti-Semitic base takes note. When his wife, Melania, states in an interview that that same reporter “provoked” anti-Semitic death threats, Trump’s anti-Semitic base nods.

Trumpism breeds conspiracism; conspiracism breeds anti-Semitism. Trump is happy to channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.

The anti-Semitism on the right may slink back beneath its rock when Trump is defeated. Or perhaps it will continue to bubble up, fed by the demagoguery of bad men willing to channel ignorant rage toward their own glorification.

For even more of the anti-Semitism directed at Shapiro from his fellow travelers on the right, please see his post The Anti-Semites Are Out In Force For Trump. It’s sickening.

Or there is this from journalist Bethany Mandel (an Orthodox Jew who writes for The Federalist and The Forward “usually from a conservative perspective”):

As any high-profile Twitter user with a Jewish-sounding last name can tell you, the surest way to see anti-Semitism flood your mentions column is to tweet something negative about Donald Trump. My anti-Trump tweets have been met with such terrifying and profound anti-Semitism that I bought a gun earlier this month. Over the coming weeks, I plan to learn how to shoot it better.

I implore my fellow Jews … no, I implore my fellow Americans: Do not let Donald Trump get anywhere near the White House because to do so would be to legitimize and elevate this vile hate that has taken hold within some of his supporters. Trump may not be Hitler, but it certainly seems that some of his most ardent supporters wish that he was. We cannot elect a fascist who draws support from racists and bigots and refuses to repudiate hate expressed in his name. That way lies danger … for all of us.


*“Zadie” is Yiddish for grandfather and is a term of endearment used by many Jewish children.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Bathroom Problem (or Exposing the “Phobia” in Transphobia)

One of the common refrains of fear (or hate) expressed by those opposed to transgender rights is often referred to as the “bathroom problem”. You’ll often hear opponents of transgender equality talk about their fear of a “man in a dress” (the example almost always seems to be a man in a dress) going into a women’s bathroom to watch women or engage in other more nefarious activities (like rape). Sometimes, this fear is taken to even greater lengths when the suggestion is made that pedophiles might use transgender bathroom access as a means to assault young girls (or boys, though that fear is expressed far less frequently) in bathrooms. Plus, the total lack of understanding of what it means to be transgender is demonstrated when opponents of transgender equality make comments suggesting that a person might just wake up one day and “decide to be a woman” in order to use the women’s bathroom. All of this is wrong. All of it is offensive. All of it is stupid. All of this is based on fear or loathing of those who are different. All of this puts transgender individuals in an untenable position and often endangers their safety.

And it is the “bathroom problem” that is being used to deprive transgender individuals from equality in employment, housing, and other aspects of day-to-day life.

I want to work through some of the elements of the “bathroom problem” but before doing so, I want to ask readers a question. Be honest: Do you know a transgender individual? Have ever shared a meal with a transgender individual or taken the time to get to know that individual as a person? Because I think that one of the most important things that we can and must do when it comes to thinking about policies affecting members of certain minority communities (or, in fact, any community other than that of which we are a part or with which we are familiar) is to make sure that we understand the issues and concerns faced by those communities and put faces and personalities to the members of those communities. It’s easy to advocate for or make policy that may harm strangers, especially when, so far as you know, those strangers reside only outside of your little neck of the woods. It is easy to pass a law that will apply to your stereotyped version of a misunderstood or disfavored minority community with which you have no real familiarity, sympathy, or empathy. But it is much more difficult to make a policy that may have an adverse impact on someone with whom you’ve had an opportunity to share your respective hopes and dreams and who is more than a cardboard stock character instead of a real flesh and blood individual with a family and emotions much like yours.

I think those who have never met and talked to a transgender individual would be most surprised to learn, were they to take the time to actually meet and listen with an open mind (and, in a perfect world, an open heart), that most of these people knew when they were quite young that their understanding of “self” did not match their biological body. These are not people who suddenly woke upon one day and said to themselves, “today I feel like living as a man” or “I prefer wearing dresses, so I’m going to live as a woman”. That just isn’t how it happens in real life for the vast majority of transgender individuals. Add to that the stigma associated with being transgender, not to mention the fear of how family, friends, and co-workers may respond, and the constant threat of violence by those who view transgender individuals as “freaks” or a threat, and then ask yourself if you really think that someone is going to come out as transgender just to use a particular bathroom or to engage in voyeuristic activities. And given the incredible difficulties we all face during adolescence and puberty, with peer pressure and the pain that can come with just trying to find your own place in the world, do you really think that teenagers would come out as transgender just to have a chance to see naked girls?

So let’s try to break down some of the parts of the “bathroom issue” and think about them a bit more carefully.

To begin, it is probably appropriate to think about what we mean when discussing “gender identity”. First, here is how the American Psychological Association explains the difference between sex and gender:

Sex is assigned at birth, refers to one’s biological status as either male or female, and is associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women. These influence the ways that people act, interact, and feel about themselves. While aspects of biological sex are similar across different cultures, aspects of gender may differ.

And here is how the American Psychological Association describes categories of transgender individuals (note that other definitions, especially from transgender advocacy groups, may be even more precise or use more currently accepted terminology):

Many identities fall under the transgender umbrella. The term transsexual refers to people whose gender identity is different from their assigned sex. Often, transsexual people alter or wish to alter their bodies through hormones, surgery, and other means to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their gender identities. This process of transition through medical intervention is often referred to as sex or gender reassignment, but more recently is also referred to as gender affirmation. People who were assigned female, but identify and live as male and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity are known as transsexual men or transmen (also known as female-to-male or FTM). Conversely, people who were assigned male, but identify and live as female and alter or wish to alter their bodies through medical intervention to more closely resemble their gender identity are known as transsexual women or transwomen (also known as male-to-female or MTF). Some individuals who transition from one gender to another prefer to be referred to as a man or a woman, rather than as transgender.

People who cross-dress wear clothing that is traditionally or stereotypically worn by another gender in their culture. They vary in how completely they cross-dress, from one article of clothing to fully cross-dressing. Those who cross-dress are usually comfortable with their assigned sex and do not wish to change it. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression and is not necessarily tied to erotic activity. Cross-dressing is not indicative of sexual orientation. (See Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality for more information on sexual orientation.) The degree of societal acceptance for cross-dressing varies for males and females. In some cultures, one gender may be given more latitude than another for wearing clothing associated with a different gender.

The term drag queens generally refers to men who dress as women for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. The term drag kings refers to women who dress as men for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events.

Genderqueer is a term that some people use who identify their gender as falling outside the binary constructs of “male” and “female.” They may define their gender as falling somewhere on a continuum between male and female, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms. They may also request that pronouns be used to refer to them that are neither masculine nor feminine, such as “zie” instead of “he” or “she,” or “hir” instead of “his” or “her.” Some genderqueer people do not identify as transgender.

Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, multigendered, gender nonconforming, third gender, and two-spirit people. Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person and may change over time, but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders. Some people who use these terms to describe themselves see traditional, binary concepts of gender as restrictive.

Finally, here is the American Psychological Association’s explanation of the relationship between gender identity and sexual orientation:

Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person, whereas gender identity refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or asexual, just as nontransgender people can be. Some recent research has shown that a change or a new exploration period in partner attraction may occur during the process of transition. However, transgender people usually remain as attached to loved ones after transition as they were before transition. Transgender people usually label their sexual orientation using their gender as a reference. For example, a transgender woman, or a person who is assigned male at birth and transitions to female, who is attracted to other women would be identified as a lesbian or gay woman. Likewise, a transgender man, or a person who is assigned female at birth and transitions to male, who is attracted to other men would be identified as a gay man.

And, just in case that wasn’t confusing enough, there is one more category to consider: Intersex.

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types — for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.

Thus, as we proceed through this discussion, don’t forget to think about intersex individuals who are most often left out of the discussion surrounding transgender issues in general and the “bathroom problem” in particular.

Thus, we finally come to the issue at hand: The “bathroom problem”.

imageTransgender individuals, like the rest of us, sometimes need to use public bathrooms or the bathrooms in businesses or government offices. The question becomes, which bathroom a transgender individual should use. This might not be an issue at all if not for the concern expressed by some that they are made uncomfortable by a transgender person in the bathroom with them or the fear expressed by some that people might use bathroom access as a means by which to engage in voyeurism or sexual assault. So recently (in particular following the Supreme Court’s decision in the gay marriage case), numerous states have considered and/or passed legislation codifying which bathroom individuals may use. In most cases, those laws require people to use the bathroom that matches their genitalia or the gender identified on their birth certificate. It is worth noting that some states have considered but refused to pass similar legislation and or had a governor veto the such legislation (in South Dakota, the Governor vetoed the legislation after taking the time to meet, for the first time, some transgender individuals, who helped him “see things through their eyes … and see more of their perspective”). And some states and municipalities have adopted protections for transgender individuals, including in some cases, permitting the individual to use the bathroom applicable to that person’s gender identity. Of course, you also have states like North Carolina that called a special session of the legislature to pass, in a single day, a law written primarily to overturn Charlotte’s municipal nondiscrimination ordinance that included protections for transgender individuals.

Now, I certainly understand that a woman might be unnerved by a man walking into the bathroom and “checking her out”. But do you really think that a heterosexual man with the primary purpose of “checking out” women (or sexually assaulting them) is going to go to the trouble of identifying as a woman (“wearing a dress” to use the parlance of those who are so concerned about which bathroom a transgender women should use) just to get access to the women’s bathroom? Really? I mean nothing says “heterosexual man” like wearing a dress, right? But think about this for a minute: What is to stop a lesbian from going into that women’s bathroom and checking out (or assaulting) the other women? Or a gay man from going into the men’s room and standing at the urinal checking out the guys to the left and right? I don’t hear fear and angst being expressed about those much more likely scenarios. Nope. Only the “man in a dress” seems to trigger the sort of fear that we’re talking about.

One of the dangerous elements of the concern over bathroom use by transgender women (and again, to be clear, a transgender woman is a person who was born a biological male but who either identifies as or has transitioned to living as a woman) is that it presumes that transgender women are, in fact, sexual predators with their aim set on women and girls, thus lumping all transgender individuals into the class of predators and pedophiles. (It also seems to presume that transgender women are all lesbians [or were all heterosexual men], even though most people tend to confuse gender identity with sexual orientation and presume that all transgender individuals are homosexual.) That sort of broad stereotyping into a class of wrongdoers is just as unfair as it would be to presume that all high school athletic coaches or Catholic priests are pedophiles, all Germans are Nazis, all Muslims are terrorists, all Jews are greedy and bent on world domination, or all conservative Republicans are … whoops. I won’t go there. But the point remains that lumping all transgender individuals (or even just transgender women) into a class that presumes that they are sexual predators is both insultingly unfair and just the sort of dangerous stereotyping of minorities that our promise of equal protection is designed to prevent.

When we talk about a person being transgender, we’re not talking about a simple decision to wear a dress (that would simply be cross-dressing which as noted above is different); rather, the decision to accept a gender identity means living with that identity all the time, not just when it’s convenient in order to act as a voyeur. A transgender individual doesn’t just dress as the gender with which they identify; rather, they live in accordance with many of societal norms associated with that gender, including — in addition to dress — name, hair, grooming, and so forth. So, going back to that oft-mentioned “man in a dress,” just how likely is it that “he” will also grow his nails and paint them, wear makeup, grow his hair long and wear it in a style usually associated with females, use a female name (and female pronouns to refer to “himself,” often going through the formal process of a name change), just to leer at women in a bathroom? Seems like a lot of work, especially with the amount of porn available on the internet, not to mention the downside of being ostracized by friends, family, co-workers, or classmates.

It is also worth noting that the sort of crimes that are the core of the “fear” of allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity simply don’t occur. The myth of transgender predators in the bathroom has been repeatedly debunked:

Over the 35 year history of NDOs [non-discrimination ordinances] protecting transgender people all over the world, only one case of a person abusing an NDO and committing sexual assault (in Canada) has ever been found, even by those most interested in demonizing transgender people.

Think about that for a moment.

Every NDO, every person, every bathroom, every day, every trip to the loo, for 35 years, and it's happened once in the entire world.

For sake of context, the FBI reports that over 84,000 rapes were reported in 2014 alone, none of which exploited gender identity inclusive NDOs to commit sexual assault. To put the relative risk of people misusing NDOs in perspective another way statistically, five Americans have been shot by dogs in the past five years. Similarly, 450 people per year in the US are killed by falling out of bed.

The demonization of transgender people has consequences as well. When visibly transgender people are constantly regarded as sexual predators and deviants, it increases the risk of suicide attempts. It also invites violence against transgender people, like the savage beating of Missy Polis in 2011 as she left a women's bathroom at McDonalds. 2015 has also seen anti-transgender violence dramatically increase to record levels.

For transgender students, the consequences of having nowhere safe to go can be life threating. A trans-masculine student in Michigan held it so long that he was hospitalized with a life threatening kidney infection after he was banned from using the boy's restroom, and bullied constantly for using the girls or staff facility. (Seriously, would you want to be the kid that the entire staff knows rendered their bathroom uninhabitable after taco Tuesday?) This isn't simply anecdotal: survey data on transgender students shows that most face bullying and harassment, and over 1/3rd report being physically assaulted.


Perhaps we need to look at some of these questions a bit differently. Perhaps some real world examples will help address these sorts of problems. It seems that the fear being expressed is that a person who looks like a man (the “man in a dress”) would go into the women’s bathroom and make the other women uncomfortable (I note that we don’t hear much worry about a person who looks like a woman putting on a suit and walking into the men’s bathroom…). So let’s think about how things will work in states that have passed laws that require people to use the bathroom that matches their biological gender (or the gender on their birth certificate).

So, tell me, ladies, how would you feel if this person walked into your bathroom as the law in some states would now require:


I don’t know, but perhaps women would like it if this biological woman were to walk into the women’s bathroom (I suppose it depends on your views on tattoos, right?):


Or what about Chaz Bono? Which bathroom should he use?


And what about the safety of these people going into the men’s bathroom:


While on the subject of safety for individuals, in which bathroom will these children find safety? (More on transgender children in a moment.)



Or this boy who was kicked out of a women’s bathroom in a McDonald’s:


Oh, wait. That was a mistake. She is a biological girl but people in the restaurant apparently thought she looked like a boy.

And here is a trick question for you. Below are identical twins. Which bathroom should they use?


I doubt most men would object to finding the woman below in their bathroom. Or would they? And what would happen if those men found out that she had something in her dress that might, indeed, make them … um … uncomfortable? I’m sure she would be perfectly safe, right?


Now look again at the photo of those little girls. I know that most of you will say “my child (or grandchild) would never be transgender.” Of course, that’s probably what the parents and grandparents of most transgender children told themselves, too. But if one of those little girls was your child or grandchild, which bathroom would you want her to use? Would you worry for her safety if she was required to use the boys’ bathroom and locker room? What sort of ridicule or risk of physical danger would she be subject to? Is that what you would want for your child or grandchild? Sure, it’s easy to harden your heart to some “freak” that you don’t know and don’t care about, but just how cold and uncaring would you really be if that were your child? Or, I suppose, you could rant and yell and scream about that child’s gender identity and argue that, instead of living as the girl she understands herself to be, he should live as a boy just because he was born with a penis. But ask yourself if you’re willing to wipe the smile off of that child’s face when you tell him to live as something and someone that he isn’t. Are you willing to force that child to live life in a state of denial and anxiety to meet your societal norm? And are you willing to put that child at much, much higher risk of severe depression and suicide because his understanding of his gender identity makes you uncomfortable? Really? If you still answer “yes” to those questions, then you’re simply an uncaring asshole who should probably stop reading this blog; instead, you might want to bury your head in your chosen holy scripture and see if you can glean the real intent of your chosen deity with regard to your treatment of others who might be different than you.

Let me also offer some potentially provocative observations and queries. As I’ve discussed, it seems that a principal motivating factor in the concerns that give rise to the “bathroom problem” is the fear about crimes being committed in bathrooms, in particular against children. Never mind that this concern lumps all transgender people into a category of criminal predators and never mind the complete lack of examples of the sort of assaults by transgender individuals that are at the core of the concern. Rather, ask yourself why these sorts of concerns over use of bathrooms have not also included those for whom there is past evidence of misdeeds, either against children or in bathrooms. In other words, ask yourself why we don’t have laws prohibiting use of public bathrooms by anyone who has been convicted of a sexual offense, especially an offense involving children. I mean, think about it, for a minute: People are arguing that a transgender woman should not be able to use a women’s bathroom because of a fear that she might just be pretending and might actually intend to do harm, yet a convicted pedophile who must register with local authorities and often cannot live in certain areas (such as near a school) can use a public bathroom as long as the bathroom matches the pedophile’s biological gender. Does that make any sense?

Moreover, if we’re going down the road of lumping all who are a part of a particular group into the “potential criminal” realm, then shouldn’t we do the same for groups that do, in fact, have members who have engaged in precisely the sort of criminal behavior with which we are concerned? You know who I’m talking about: Catholic priests (I apologize for the broad nature of this comment, but I hope that you’ll accept it as the hyperbolic rhetorical way in which it is intended). Some want to prohibit transgender men from using the men’s room but express no concern at all over the notion of those who are part of a clearly defined group that both includes and protects pedophiles using public bathrooms in which children may be present. Why the double standard?

And what about high school athletic coaches? It seems that almost every month we read about another coach who was preying upon student athletes, often of the same sex. Yet we don’t have laws to keep these predators (or the class to which they belong) from being in the bathroom or locker room. Why the distinction?

Or think about it this way: There have been more elected legislators convicted of committing sexual crimes in bathrooms (Jon Hinson, Larry Craig, and Bob Allen) than there have been convictions of transgender individuals for similar crimes. Seriously. Yet we don’t see laws trying to protect people from wayward legislators, do we? (And you’d think legislators would be satisfied fucking the American people figuratively, without needing to do it literally … and in the bathroom.)

imageI’ve previously discussed the way that the “bathroom problem” converts all transgender individuals into a class of predators (or, at least, potential predators). Yet these laws, and more importantly, those drafting, passing, signing, and supporting them, completely ignore the actual victimhood of and daily threats endemic to transgender individuals. In fact, compare the efforts to demonize and degrade transgender individuals on the basis of irrational fear with the dearth of efforts to actually protect transgender individuals from the harm that they do, in fact, suffer. Perhaps if we had laws that protected transgender individuals in employment and housing, people would begin to accept them as a part of our community and the stigma might begin to lessen.

If we define two classes of people, one being women in bathrooms and the other being transgender individuals, and then compare the frequency with which they are subject to violent assault, you would quickly see that transgender individuals are victims of violence by a far, far, far greater ratio than are women in bathrooms. Yet we don’t see legislators holding special sessions to try to draft and pass legislation to help protect transgender individuals who are the victims of real, documented violence; rather, we see legislators passing laws to protect people from imaginary harms that simply are not happening. But this really shouldn’t be too surprising. Republican legislatures have become masters at passing (or at least introducing) laws to prevent problems that don’t exist (and which have a negative impact on others): transphobic bathroom laws, voter ID laws, bills intended to address right-wing “boogeyman” conspiracy fears (Agenda 21, for example), all while failing to pass laws that might actually help address real problems: violence against transgender individuals, gun violence, global warming, disenfranchisement of eligible voters, and so forth. For example, when the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized by Congress in 2012, all of the votes against reauthorization were cast by Republican men; all of the Democrats and all of the Republican women voted for reauthorization.

Republican legislators want to keep transgender women out of the women’s bathroom but don’t want to be sure that women are paid the same as men for doing the same work. Republican legislators are passing laws to stop transgender predators from assaulting women and children in bathrooms, even without any evidence whatsoever of transgender predators assaulting women and children in bathrooms, while doing nothing to stop predators from assaulting people with guns despite overwhelming evidence of people being assaulted with guns. Maybe gun control advocates need to start airing advertisements of scary hordes of transgender individuals (men in dresses, I presume) with guns … in bathrooms; maybe that would get the attention of legislators.

I think that conservative commentator S.E. Cupp (and I cannot believe that I’m agreeing with her…) was spot on in her observation about these so-called bathroom bills and the impetus behind them (emphasis added):

Is there an epidemic of trans agitators exploiting their adopted genders to invade women's restrooms and do untoward stuff to young girls? If so, I missed all the paranoia over non-trans men sneaking into women's bathrooms, and doing untoward stuff to young girls. What is to stop any man from walking into a public ladies' room in the first place? [¶] The arguments for such legislation are, in short, entirely fabricated, a cultural and political invention used to stoke public fear, pledge fealty to a cartoonish, far-right totem of morality, and stand athwart some imagined political correctness.

Don’t forget that the sort of sexual predation, voyeurism, or other criminal conduct at the heart of this wave of transphobia is already a crime, whether committed by a man or woman (trans- or otherwise) and no matter which bathroom. Similarly, individuals with bad intent (feel free to hum a few bars of Aqualung) haven’t avoided going into the woman’s bathroom because laws prohibited them from doing so, have they? I mean, do we really think that a sexual predator has abstained from acting on his impulses because he was afraid to go into a woman’s bathroom, but will feel emboldened by a law that permits transgender individuals from using a particular bathroom? He won’t be constrained by laws prohibiting rape or sexual assault but was constrained but now will be emboldened by bathroom access laws? Really?

But that is precisely how opponents of transgender bathroom access (or proponents of these new bathroom bills) really frame the issue. Take for example this advertisement created in response to the passage of an ordinance in Gainesville, Florida, that permitted transgender individuals to use the bathroom applicable to their gender identity:


Ask yourself whether the man seen entering the bathroom after the little girl is transgender … or if he is simply a sexual predator. And ask yourself what the Gainesville ordinance had to do with the situation depicted in the video. Ask yourself whether you really think that the predator shown in the video would  have been deterred from his conduct were it not for the transgender equality ordinance. Finally, ask yourself whether the conduct that we are to presume that predator has in mind is already illegal.

A very similar advertisement was used in 2015 to successfully overturn the non-discrimination ordinance passed in Houston:


The frightening thing is the extent to which the very scenarios depicted in these videos are precisely what opponents of transgender equality envision when they seek to prohibit transgender access to bathrooms appropriate to their gender identity. Perhaps even more frightening, is how many people accept this scenario as some sort of truth of what will transpire (or is transpiring). This is the phobia in transphobia.

Most of the so-called “bathroom laws” that have been introduced or adopted have framed the question of who can use a particular bathroom on the basis of the person’s biological gender (sometimes based on birth, sometimes on a birth certificate, sometimes on then-current genitalia). Few, if any, of these laws have delved much more deeply into the issues presented by these bills. Thus, for example, wouldn’t a parent run afoul of the law by taking their opposite-sex child into a bathroom with them? What about someone who is providing aid to an elderly or disabled person? And even if we try to write those sorts of exceptions into the laws, what will be the requirements or age cutoffs? At what age can a boy no longer accompany his mother into the women’s room? Please take a few minutes to read this incredibly emotional essay by the mother of an autistic boy who would be directly and severely burdened by these sorts of bathroom laws. Then, take a few minutes to look at some pictures of puppies or kittens before coming back to continue with this post; hopefully an overload of cute will give you the strength to keep reading.

imageAnother thing worth considering: Just how would a person know if the individual in the stall next to them was actually transgender? I don’t know about you, but when I go into a bathroom, I tend to pay attention to my own business and ignore those in the stalls next to me. One thing that I never do is ask others in the bathroom to drop their trousers so that I can do a genital inspection to be sure that they are in the right place; nor has anyone ever asked me to prove that I have the appropriate genitalia to be in the men’s room. So are we contemplating Potty Police™ who will be checking everyone entering the bathroom? Or will they simply be checking those who meet some kind of profile? Only women are aren’t … um .. feminine enough? Only effeminate men? Um, go back and look at the photos I posted above and tell me which of those people the Potty Police™ should examine.

Maybe I can invent a tool with a mirror on a stick that I can poke under the stall wall to help me check the person in the stall next to me to be sure that their genitalia is as expected. Wait, I know! We can require transgender individuals to wear a pink triangle on their clothing so we’ll know when one tries to use the wrong bathroom! That should solve everything! Or, at least if it won’t solve everything, it will help make clear that the real problem is bigotry toward and/or fear of those who are different.

And what sort of liability should we impose upon those who make a false assumption or false report about “improper” bathroom usage?


Perhaps transgender individuals who are forced to use the “wrong” bathroom should follow the example of Charlie, a transgender man from North Carolina who must now use the women’s bathroom. Charlie had business cards printed up (see image) explaining that he is a “transgender man who would rather be using the men’s room right now” and noting that the situation is “likely uncomfortable for both of us”. How would you feel if someone who appeared to be the opposite sex walked into your bathroom and handed you that card?

Oh, and what are we to do about individuals who are intersex? I bet you forgot about them… Which bathroom should they use? What do we tell a person who was born with female anatomy but who produces testosterone and looks like a man? Do we simply tell intersex individuals that they don’t conform to accepted societal expectations and that they should, therefore, isolate themselves on a remote island where nobody will care about their genitalia or where and how they urinate? I mean, how do we deal with intersex individuals without running afoul of laws written on the basis of birth certificates or genitalia?

I think that part of the problem is that far too few people understand the difference between cross-dressing and being transgender; there seems to be a misconception that all transgender biological males are drag queens. And, as a brief aside, as long as I’m on that topic, just why exactly are people uncomfortable with someone who feels better about themselves when wearing clothing most commonly associated with the opposite gender? For that matter, it really seems to only focus on men who choose to wear female attire. When a woman puts on her husband or boyfriend’s dress shirt, we think it’s cute or even sexy. Women commonly wear clothing generally associated with males, whether in the form of a suit with a tie or even as simple as pants (ask yourself why many religions forbid women from wearing pants). But if a man or boy puts on a skirt or dress, then obviously he must be some kind of freak who is a danger to society, right? Women can wear their hair long or short or even go bald and it is simply a stylistic choice. Only since the hippie movement of the ’60s can a man wear his hair long without opprobrium, but he better not style it or curl it or do much else with it, because that is a feminine grooming attribute, right? The same goes for fingernails. Women can have nails that are long or short, varnished or unvarnished. Nobody assumes that a woman who chooses to have short, unvarnished nails is some sort of freak that needs to be kept away from children. But can you imagine the outcry if a male school teacher were to come to class with long painted nails? Ok, ok. Off topic tangent over, but I hope that I’ve made the point: Being transgender is not the same as cross-dressing. A transgender woman in a dress is a woman in a dress, not a man in a dress. I think that is one of the sticking points that is simply too difficult for some people to wrap their brains around (or, perhaps, not too difficult, but too different from the accepted societal norms that some people cannot recognize may not apply to all people in all situations). Even a cursory review of many articles and comments written by those opposed to transgender equality, will show that the “man in a dress” is a near constant theme from which it is almost always possible to glean that the author refuses to understand or accept the very nature of a person being transgender.

It is probably also worth noting that there have been transgender individuals living in accordance with their gender identity for … well, for a long time. And those people have been using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity for a long time, too. I suspect that you’ve shared a public bathroom with a transgender individual at least once, if not more often, without even knowing it, let alone being sexually assaulted. Yet only recently has this reality become an issue. Ask yourself why? If there had been a number of high profile attacks by transgender individuals against women or children in bathrooms, I might understand the sudden hypersensitivity to the issue. But that simply hasn’t happened. In fact, as noted, there haven’t been any of these sorts of attacks in America to which those pushing these sorts of laws can point. None. Zero. Zilch. But, hey, transphobia!

So what is the real motivating factor for these laws, including the law in North Carolina for which a special session of the legislature was called in order to overrule Charlotte’s municipal ordinance that provided protections for transgender North Carolinians? I contend that the “losses” experienced by those opposed to LGBT equality (for example, the Supreme Court’s decision overturning “don’t ask don’t tell” followed by the decision in the same-sex marriage case, as well as the general rise in acceptability of homosexuality among the public) has forced homophobes (and transphobes) to redirect their ire, hence the passage of so-called religious freedom laws that condone discrimination on religious grounds or the new transgender bathroom bills. In other words, the culture wars rage on, just focusing on new targets. In fact, at least one state (Kansas) has considered a bill that would not only require transgender individuals to use the bathroom for the gender on their birth certificate, but which would also pay a “bounty” to individuals who were able to catch and report on transgender individuals using the “wrong” bathroom. Vulnerable transgender individuals, especially children and teens, need nothing more than to know that their co-workers or classmates might be following them, hoping to catch them in a “criminal act” in order to collect a reward.

Though the analogy is far from precise, it is also worth at least thinking about the comparison between the impact these bathroom laws have on transgender individuals and laws that, not too long ago, kept African Americans (or other people of color) out of bathrooms used by whites. Some of the same sort of fear mongering was used to condone those sorts of discriminatory laws, including the claim that white women would catch syphilis if they used the same toilets as black women. Seriously. I can’t help but think that there is a subset of our fellow citizens that just isn’t happy if they can’t point to a minority group against whom they can bring the power of the government to prevent equality and fairness from reaching. In previous decades it was African Americans, then it was gays and lesbians, now it is transgender individuals. Who knows which minority will be the next target?

And before saying something like, “why can’t transgender individuals just use a unisex bathroom,” remind yourself of the phrase at the heart of the school segregation movement: Separate but equal. To tell transgender individuals that they must use a special or “other” bathroom is to set them apart as being different. Moreover, doing so may “out” those transgender individuals to more people than might otherwise be aware that the individual is transgender, especially in an environment like a school where it may become obvious that there is something different about the one student who only uses (or is only allowed to use) the staff bathroom or some other unisex bathroom. That the particular student is transgender may not be known to other students or even by some teachers, but the sort of isolation and ostracization that would be inevitable if that student is singled out in treatment will result in a similar effect for that child. And if we, as a society, don’t think that it is acceptable to direct children of different races to use different bathrooms, then why do we think that it is acceptable to direct one class of children to use a different bathroom and thus be separated from the remainder of the student body? Separate but equal was wrong for race and it is wrong for transgender individuals, too, especially when “equal” — without the “separate but” part — is possible. Telling one class of people that we are going to treat them differently because of who they are is inconsistent with the Constitutional promise of equal protection under the law, not to mention who we are supposed to be as a society and culture. Or is our culture really founded on discriminating against minorities and considering them to be something less than the rest of us (say … um … maybe being just 3/5 of a person)? Is our society premised on equality or is discrimination really a core “value”?

It may be worth considering some of the rhetoric being directed at this issue by those who are generally opposed to LGBT equality. For example, former Arkansas Governor (and repeated, failed candidate for President) Mike Huckabee has argued all sorts of … well, simply stupid, things about the bathroom problem, such as this gem:

“Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee said on stage at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention back in February. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’”

“For those who do not think that we are under threat, simply recognize the fact that we are now in city after city watching ordinances say that your seven-year-old daughter — if she goes into the restroom — cannot be offended and you can’t be offended if she’s greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man,” he said.

So, do you see any problems with any of that? As mentioned above, Huckabee confuses gender identity with “finding” his feminine side or being willing to use that as a means to engage in voyeurism, thus seeming to demonstrate that he doesn’t actually understand what it even means to be transgender. Then he compounds his idiocy by arguing that bills permitting bathroom access would prohibit people from being “offended” (and notice the reference to a “man who feels more like a woman than he does a man”; yet another indication that Huckabee has no comprehension of what it means to be transgender). Point me to a law, ordinance, or bill that prohibits anyone from being “offended”. I’ll wait. What the laws in question do is simply permit people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. But like many who oppose LGBT equality, Huckabee makes clear that the issue has nothing to do with the dignity of the transgender person; rather it’s all about the moral judgment and approbation of the person who might be offended by someone with a gender identity that does not match their biological gender.

Then there is Sen. Ted Cruz who also seems to focus on the proverbial “man in a dress”:

“Every one of us has the right to live our lives as we wish,” he said. “If any one of us wants to dress up as a woman or man and wants to live as woman or man and believes that we might be something other than what we were born, God has made each of us with free will and the ability to choose to do that if man to wants to dress as a woman, and live as a woman, and have a bathroom at home.”

A reporter sought clarification on the remark: “So then they shouldn’t use the bathroom out in public?”

Cruz then confirmed just that. “You don’t have a right to intrude upon the rights of others because whether or not a man believes he’s a woman, there are a lot of women who would like to be able to use a public restroom in peace without having a man there — and when there are children involved, you don’t have a right to impose your lifestyle on others.”

Notice anything interesting in Cruz’s comments? Like, for instance, his view that transgender people wanting to be treated with respect and dignity is “imposing” their lifestyle on others while, at the same time, people telling transgender individuals which bathrooms to use apparently is not imposing a lifestyle on those who might be different from them? Moreover, Cruz appears to think that the very notion of being transgender is something of a joke:

If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t go to the girls’ bathroom!

Cruz even thinks that the notion of treating transgender people with dignity and allowing them to live in accordance with their gender identity is “nonsense” that is “destroying America”:

Should a grown man pretending to be a woman be allowed to use the women’s restroom?” the ad asks. “The same restroom used by your daughter? Your wife? Donald Trump thinks so. It’s not appropriate. It’s not safe. It’s PC nonsense that’s destroying America. Donald Trump won’t take on the PC police. He’s one of them.”

Pretending? Destroying America? Really? Letting transgender women use the women’s bathroom is destroying America? Funny, Ted, but I’d suggest that the sort of hate that you and people like you espouse for anyone who is different is much more likely to lead to the destruction of America than will treating people with dignity. (I might also point to shutting down the government to try to stop people from having access to affordable healthcare…) But that isn’t nearly so scary, is it?

Or, we could look at the time that Bill O’Reilly compared transgender bathroom access to taking young teenage kids to Hooters. Yeah, I don’t understand either. But that is the sort of message that those who oppose LGBT equality in general and transgender equality in particular are being hammered with, day in and day out.

I could go on and on with the sort of rhetoric commonly spewed by homophobes and transphobes, but I think that you get the point. Let me just say that it seems that, especially when it comes to their views on transgender individuals, the suffix “–phobe” really seems to be appropriate. Read the comments from Huckabee, Cruz, and others, especially in the comments to online articles or Facebook posts, and you will see that fear of transgender individuals (as predators) tends to be one of the predominant considerations. Fear of snakes? Nah. Fear of spiders? Who me? Fear of heights or the dark? Nope. Fear of men in dresses? EEEEEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!! Must pass laws! And when fear isn’t the defining motivation, more often than not, the author will refer to transgender individuals as “mentally ill” or use some other similar pejorative declaration.

Sadly, however, the “bathroom problem” is really the least important problem facing most transgender Americans. Sure, they’d prefer to be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, but I suspect that were you to ask transgender individuals, they would tell you that the concern over which bathroom to use pales in comparison to worries about being the victim of transphobic (or homophobic violence), worries about being denied housing, and worries about being denied employment (or fired if an employer discovers that they are transgender or they take steps to affirm their gender identity). The bathroom issue is getting a lot of press right now, but I’d wager that it is much easier to advocate for laws that will discriminate against transgender individuals if you can add an element of fear (even if misplaced and irrational) to the discussion instead of being forced to simply talk about why an employer or landlord should be able to turn away a transgender individual or why we can’t do more to keep transgender individuals safe from physical abuse.


In conclusion, allow me to offer a few pieces of advice for those of you who encounter a transgender individual for the first time: First, take your cues from that individual. If they introduce themselves with a particular name, honor their wishes and use that name, even if the name is not the name that person had previously used or the name that you think they should use. It doesn’t matter if the person has the outward appearance of a male; if that person introduces herself as Sally, then show a degree of respect and call her Sally. Doing so does not mean that you “accept” her transgender persona or think that being transgender is an acceptable “lifestyle” (not that it is up to you anyway); rather, it is simply a sign of respect to that individual. A second and related point is to respect the pronouns that person uses to describe himself or herself. Again, while you may think that Sally is still a man, if Sally uses feminine pronouns in reference to herself, please show her some respect and do so as well. To those of you who may respond by saying, “but it makes me uncomfortable to call a man ‘Sally’ or ‘she’” all I can offer is that your discomfort probably pales in comparison to the discomfort faced by that transgender individual who is simply trying to find his or her own way in a world that is often hostile to his or her very existence.

Don’t assume that a transgender individual is gay. Gender identity and sexual orientation are linked in the minds of the public, legislators, and lobbying groups (and by the acronyms LGBT or LGBTQ), but they are not linked in biology or persona. There are transgender women who are attracted to men and there are transgender women who are attracted to women; similarly, there are transgender men who are attracted to women and transgender men who are attracted to men. Don’t assume that someone who has decided to assert their gender identity must therefore also be gay. And don’t ask. Just as you wouldn’t ask a stranger or co-worker that you don’t know well if they are gay, you shouldn’t ask a transgender individual about their own sexual orientation until you get to know that person as a friend and have established an element of trust and mutual respect and caring. Finally, don’t ask the transgender individual about his or her private parts, whether they’re taking hormones, or whether they’ve had gender reassignment or gender confirmation surgery. It’s none of your business. You’d be offended if someone you didn’t know well asked you whether you were circumcised or had a hysterectomy or vasectomy, wouldn’t you? Once you take the time to get to know the transgendered individual as a person and they learn that they can trust you as a friend, I’m sure that they will be more forthcoming and willing to discuss some of the more difficult aspects of their identity (though certainly not all individuals will be willing to share such personal information). But save those questions for people that you know and who you are willing to call “friend”.

But please, take the time and make the effort to meet members of the transgender community before passing judgment. Get to know them and make the commitment to see past your own prejudices or stereotypes so that you can evaluate the person on the basis of his or her merits to establish a mutual respect and, if lucky, friendship. And then make the further effort to evaluate your understanding of the “bathroom problem” and the other daily issues that bring so much grief and anxiety to the transgender community. I’m not asking you to either agree with or even condone a person’s decision to live in accordance with their gender identity or to even agree with the notion that gender identity is not fixed at birth by biology. Rather, all I’m asking, is that you view the issue with deference, respect, sensitivity, and empathy that treats those who may be different from you as humans who deserve the right to live their life comfortably and safely, just like you do.

Show some small degree of compassion for others who intend no harm to you or your family but who simply want to live in peace … and use the toilet.


Forcing transgender people to use the bathroom of a gender with which they don’t identify isn’t just inconvenient or impractical. For many, especially young students still grappling with their transition, it can be traumatic, and at worst, unsafe.

The failure of … lawmakers to see this is a failure of compassion, a failure to recognize the difficult and frequently unwelcoming world transgender people must navigate every day, stigmatized by the fear and ignorance of others.

Sir Elton John

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