Sharing bathrooms: The 1970s ERA argument redux

Seriously? We are arguing about sharing bathrooms again? Didn’t we get that out of our collective political systems in the five years it took to kill the Equal Rights Amendment?

On March 22, 1972, Congress sent the simply worded, proposed 27th amendment to the states for approval. Congress gave the states seven years to ratify the amendment and required 38 states to say yes. It failed, falling three short and when in 1977, Indiana became the 35th and last state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

And what riled the opposition most? Why, bathrooms. Ratify the ERA, went the argument, and we’ll all be sharing bathrooms because we’ll have to eliminate gender-based, separate bathrooms and one can just imagine how distressing it would be to find a girl in the next stall. Why, poor thing, she’d be traumatized. Never mind that bathrooms on airplanes, buses, trains and in countless restaurants, gas stations and retail businesses were already “one size fits all.”

Opponents wielded the shared bathroom argument effectively and killed the Equal Rights Amendment.

cropped-KWWM_Letters.pngI lived through that hyperventilating mess and didn’t understand it then. Though, to be fair, I prefer separate bathrooms because I don’t trust boys and men to put down the toilet seats in a public restroom anymore than they’ll do it at home.

Now here we are almost 40 years later and we’re back to bathrooms. This time it’s North Carolina and Mississippi requiring us to use the bathroom God designated for us when he handed out the parts. If your birth certificate says “girl,” you’d best be looking for the sign with the anthropomorphic skirt. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to start carrying around a copy of my birth certificate and I sure as heck will waltz into the men’s room when the line for the women’s room stretches around the block.

Stop. Deep breath. I was about half way through the looking glass, getting sucked into the bathroom argument. It’s not the scary part No, the really frightening sections of those laws allow the states to overturn local anti-discrimination laws. Charlotte’s anti-discrimination laws, which extended sexual orientation protection, have been superseded by North Carolina’s HB2.

“North Carolina’s new law,” writes the Charlotte Observer, “sets a statewide definition of classes of people who are protected against discrimination: race, religion, color, national origin, age, handicap or biological sex as designated on a person’s birth certificate. Sexual orientation – people who are gay – was never explicitly protected under state law and is not now, despite recent court decisions that legalized same-sex marriage. … The law limits how people pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap in state courts. The law also means a city or county cannot set a minimum wage standard for private employers.”

Despite Gov. Pat McCrory’s executive order on Tuesday trying to smooth things over, very little will change in North Carolina.

So why should Floridians care? Because the Sunshine State’s current governor and legislature are infatuated with taking legislative power away from cities, town and counties. We are one bad idea away from Florida legislation that would overturn local governments’ abilities to set their own anti-discrimination laws.

Florida outlaws employment discrimination based on these criteria:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • Disability or handicap;
  • Age;
  • Marital status (single, married, divorced, widowed, etc.);
  • AIDS/HIV; or
  • Sickle cell trait.

Florida does not have laws against discrimination for sexual orientation or gender assignment, so more than half of the state’s local municipalities have adopted their own policies. Key West and Monroe County are two of them. Equality Florida continues to push for statewide legislation, while using the local legislation option until discrimination against LGBT people is illegal at the state level.

Unfortunately, Florida’s legislature is more likely to follow North Carolina’s lead and overturn local laws on discrimination or setting of the minimum wage. They’ve already done so with gun regulation. And we’re arguing about bathrooms?
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, a digital solutions company for small businesses.


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