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Wendy Davis, Beth Shipp: Bathroom Bills Are Part of the War on Women

How 'Religious Freedom' and 'Bathroom Bills' Target All of Us

It was nearly one year ago that millions of Americans celebrated a milestone in the march toward equality. On June 26, 2015, America became a slightly more perfect union, as our Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. It was a historic moment, one that was celebrated by millions of Americans — a recognition that we were moving forward in the fight for equality for all.

But those celebrations had barely ended when the far right sought to undo these victories at the state and local level. Almost immediately, right-wing activists began to wage smaller wars and incremental battles: launching an onslaught of so-called religious freedom bills, “bathroom bills” and prohibitions on local nondiscrimination ordinances. Our opponents are candid about their goals — groups like the anti-LGBT legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel readily admit that they are looking to roll back advances in equality for LGBT Americans. In fact, that’s exactly what Liberty Counsel and other anti-LGBT groups promise to do in fundraising emails to supporters.

This chipping away at hard-fought gains is a battle tactic that should be familiar to us all, part and parcel of what has propelled the anti-choice movement ever since the court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. In the choice movement, we see targeted regulations of abortion providers — laws that impose burdensome and unnecessary rules on abortion providers in an attempt to drive doctors out of business and make abortion care more expensive and difficult to obtain —forced ultrasounds, mandatory waiting periods, and insurance limitations. This tactic has been alarmingly successful, making it harder and harder each year for women in numerous states to access their constitutional right to safe, legal abortion procedures.

This piece-by-piece dismantling of constitutional protections, for LGBT Americans and for reproductive rights, is playing out simultaneously almost everywhere we look. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen legislation advance on both these battlefronts nationwide. Lawmakers in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Kansas have moved to restrict LGBT rights, while in Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, reproductive rights are under attack.

The salvos seeking to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination and restrict access to lifesaving reproductive health care are undoubtedly being fired from the same ideological militias, who view such protections as part of a singular war. Inherent in both of these efforts is a concerted attempt to rile and feed the right-wing base, which demands of its politicians an ever-increasing level of assault against the rights of people that voter base simultaneously hates and fears.

Let’s be honest: When politicians have to resort to calling a special session to pass a bill that limits the rights of certain citizens, they do so to call special attention to their actions — waving a red flag that feeds the discriminator’s appetite. It was a special session of the Texas state legislature, called for one reason only, that in 2013 passed Texas House Bill 2, a law that greatly limits a Texan’s ability to access health care, and specifically her right to an abortion, which now sits before the Supreme Court. And it was a special session of the North Carolina legislature, called for one reason only, that passed North Carolina’s House Bill 2 less than 12 hours after it was introduced.

North Carolina’s HB 2 was passed expressly to combat a local city ordinance in Charlotte, which guaranteed equal access for trans people to public accommodations in the city. A textbook example of government overreach and overreaction, HB 2 invalidates any city or county ordinance granting similar protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran status. The sponsors — in a disgusting perversion of the truth — defend their bill using the same hateful, transphobic storytelling that helped anti-LGBT forces defeat Houston’s equal rights ordinance in November.

These ads and politicians dishonestly claim that to protect children from pedophiles, we can’t allow our trans brothers and sisters to use the public facilities that correspond with their identity. It’s an affront to our intelligence, not to mention our shared humanity. The claims these politicians are advancing are also patently untrue — there has never been a single documented case anywhere in the U.S. of a trans person assaulting a cisgender (nontrans) person in a restroom, nor has anyone ever “pretended” to be trans to assault people in a bathroom or locker room.

Nevertheless, we continue to see “religious freedom” laws threatening both the rights of the LGBT community to equal treatment and the rights of women (and LGBT people) to make our own health care decisions. These laws that empower corporations to deny LGBT citizens services are often the same laws that allow employers to deny employees access to reproductive health care options in their insurance plans.

A dramatic number of Americans disagree with these attacks on our constitutional freedoms, as evidenced by the loud protests from civic and business leaders throughout North Carolina.  But our pushback can only be successful when we outnumber the voters who believe we are unequal. Let’s show up for these fights and at the ballot box to demonstrate that our “base” possesses a greater power to reject the politics of hatred and intolerance.

Let’s demonstrate that we demand equality for all. No special session, no assault on our humanity will defeat us. There will be losses along the way, but together we will win. We will emerge victorious, as long as we continue to fight, and as long as we do so as a unified front that bridges the divide our opponents try to highlight to keep us separate. 

WENDY DAVIS
WENDY DAVIS is the founder of Deeds Not Words, an advocacy initiative that empowers millennial women to channel their passion and energy on issues of gender equality into actionable change. She was previously a Texas state senator and candidate for governor of Texas, who fought tirelessly for reproductive rights, equal pay for women, justice for sexual assault survivors, affordable quality education, and equality for the LGBTQ community.

BETH SHIPP
BETH SHIPP is the executive director of LPAC, the lesbian Super PAC that builds the political power of lesbian, queer, bisexual and transgender women by electing candidates who champion LGBTQ rights, women’s equality and social justice. She is a political strategist with more than 20 years of experience working for women’s reproductive rights, Democratic candidates, and progressive causes.

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