On April 26, Isaiah Johnson, a 20-year-old man who dresses as a woman, met a 15-year-old special-education student at a bus stop in Stamford, Conn. According to police, Johnson forced the boy into a men’s bathroom at a nearby food court, where a “sexual encounter” occurred. The next day, the student reported the incident to a school administrator, who alerted the police. On June 8, Johnson was arrested for second-degree sexual assault, second-degree unlawful restraint, and risk of injury to a minor.
Johnson’s arrest is Exhibit A in conservatives’ case against an anti-discrimination bill recently signed into law by Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy (D.). H. B. 6599 prohibits discrimination on the basis of “gender identity or expression” in a host of areas, including employment, public accommodations, and housing. Unfortunately, the bill’s language is so hazy that opponents worry it will easily be abused.
For instance, a person can prove his “gender identity or expression” via “medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity,” or, most vaguely, “consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person’s core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.” In other words, a man could simply say he was a woman, and authorities would have to take him at his word.
“This bill would allow men to simply say they are transgendered and it would allow men into women’s public restrooms, public showers, and locker rooms,” says Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. “We passed a gender nondiscrimination law in the 1970s, saying you can’t discriminate against a woman applying for a job. But we made an explicit exception for places always understood as being divided by sex.”
Democratic state senator Beth Bye, a supporter of the bill, disputes Wolfgang’s contention: “There’s nothing in the statutes right now that makes it illegal for a woman to go into a man’s bathroom — just social norms. This law changes nothing about that.”
In fact, Bye thinks the argument is a thinly veiled attempt to kill a push for greater equality: “I think it was just a scare tactic. To me, that argument didn’t make any sense. And I do think it was a bit demeaning to the transgender community. They felt that that was insulting. This bill is really about economic security and living and letting live.”
Johnson’s arrest actually bolsters Bye’s defense: Sexual assault and disturbing the peace are already illegal, and this bill would not affect those laws: “If a high-school boy goes into a girl’s locker room and creates a ruckus and the girls freak out, that student should have known he was going to create an incident, and he could be charged with disturbing the peace and charged with other harassments.”
Wolfgang, however, puts his finger on the real problem: The law affords sexual predators a new pretense to use in court. “If a man goes into a woman’s bathroom and a woman complains, she is the one who will be treated as a bigot,” he says. “A business owner could face legal repercussions.”
“There are laws to prevent sexual assault,” Republican state senator Len Suzio, an opponent of the bill, says. “But there’s common-sense preventive customs and practices like isolating bathrooms to prevent those assaults or to make it more difficult for those assaults to occur.”
Bye, however, maintains her defense: “Where is someone supposed to pee? If they’re at Dodger stadium, what are they supposed to do?”
Therein lies the problem. “They see it as a case of discrimination, we see it as a case of common sense,” Suzio summarizes. “Hence, no one knows anymore. Your sexual identity has to do with your state of mind. No one knows what you are at any point in time. There are huge problems in enforceability, I think.”
Now, the law is on the books, and Massachusetts is considering a similar bill in its legislature. Although discrimination exists against people of all stripes, Wolfgang, Suzio, and others contend that discriminating between the sexes — particularly in public restrooms — is an issue more of prudence than of rights.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.