A Local Fight Over Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

I live in a small town near the slightly larger town of Greenville, Michigan, where a brave young high school student named Justin Barr is leading the charge to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender expression. The local paper has an article about it that shows what he’s up against.

Liberty Baptist Church Pastor Mike Austin wrote a letter to the township board and sent the same one to the city council, followed by a second letter to the city council about two weeks later.

The first letter dated June 28 stated passing such an ordinance would protect “felons.”

After reciting a Michigan law “Crime against nature or sodomy,” which states “any person who shall commit the abominable and detestable crime against nature either with mankind or with any animal shall be guilty of a felony…,” Austin asked what would be next?

“Will the city of Greenville also write an ordinance of nondiscrimination toward all car thieves, or bank robbers, or murderers, or other felons?” Austin asked. “All of those people are already protected from being discriminated against, but to write a specific ordinance of nondiscrimination for them based upon their crimes, would be seen as promoting their crimes.”

Austin is, predictably, quite ignorant. The law he refers to was overturned more than a decade ago and the “crime” he refers to no longer exists. And he trots out the usual argument we’ve seen all over the country against such ordinances:

In a second letter the Greenville City Council dated July 12, Austin brought new points forward to discourage the city from considering the ordinance. He said if the ordinance were to pass, “a transgender boy that claims he is a girl, (can) use the girl’s bathroom at all schools and they will not be able to stop him.” Austin stated the same for locker rooms and school situations involving staff and students using the same bathrooms.

Another concern of Austin’s is “no one at school will be able to challenge a person’s gender or how often it changes.” He noted all of his points would not only apply to schools, but to businesses as well.

“Those people who are claiming a new group status of LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenders — and are demanding non-discrimination rights, are just beginning to exercise their new-found powers and they are delighted,” Austin wrote. “…All of that insanity starts with an ordinance that recognizes certain people as a new group and gives them group rights of non-discrimination. They already have rights as individuals — if you acknowledge them as a group, and give them rights, insanity will eventually prevail and the rights of our wholesome families will be trampled upon”

Yeah. Can he name a single example of sexual predators using a woman’s room by pretending to be transgender? Of course not. This is one giant red herring. I don’t live in Greenville, so I won’t be directly involved in it. But I’ll do what I can to help it pass.

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  • Francisco Bacopa

    This “use the same bathroom” thing has been around since I was a kid in the 70’s. I didn’t really understand it then because I didn’t have that clear a picture about gender identity issues, but that surely must have been what they meant.

    You’d think they could come up with something new in 35 years.

  • matty1

    You’d think they could come up with something new in 35 years.

    These are by and large people who still haven’t got over the wars of religion in the 16th Century expecting them to update in a mere 35 years is a bit too much.

  • badgersdaughter

    I never got the “use the same bathroom” thing either. When I was eleven or twelve and the issue first came to my attention, I asked my mother if we ought not to designate one of our two bathrooms for the use of my father and brothers, and the other for the use of my mother and me. She laughed and said it wouldn’t be practical. But I wouldn’t leave it alone. To her credit, she really tried to reason it out with me. She finally came up with a reason why we shared bathrooms with members of the opposite sex at home; that we weren’t expected to have sex with the members of our own family. After I picked up on the glaring omission in THAT (Mom/Dad, y’know), and objected to the idea of sexual relations having a whole lot to do with the whole purpose of a bathroom, she admitted defeat and said she really could not think of any reason why people should not have public unisex bathrooms.

  • Sastra

    Since men are notorious for missing the toilet and/or having seat-raising-and-lowering issues, I think there’s a practical argument to be made for separate bathrooms for men a

  • Sastra

    oops, that posted too soon. Was going to add that it’s still not a big deal.

    But I don’t see any problem with transgender using the appropriate bathrooms. It’s as if the religious right here thinks that boys will dress as girls in order to sneak peeks of women adjusting their bras and pantyhose in front of a mirror — but will ignore the fact that their reputation as “date-able” is forever lost among the high school girls they presumably lust after.

    Too many clueless viewings of Some Like It Hot.

  • Thumper; Atheist mate

    I personally can’t see why it’s such a massive issue having unisex toilets anyway. FFS, make it all stalls, no urinals, and what the fuck’s the problem? It may just engender a more mature attitude to nudity, toilets and inter-sex relations, but wouldn’t that be just awful?

  • If it encourages men to wash their hands afterwards, I’m all for unisex bathrooms. Plus, I want to see what the average of a urinal and a toilet is, and pray that I never have to use it (“Number 1 or number 2?”, “Number 1.5.”, “Oh. Dear god. No.”).

  • John Pieret

    The AFA’s Gary Glenn also wrote a letter:

    Glenn is asking Barr and others urging Greenville to adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance to identify documented examples of individuals in the city who have been denied employment, housing or service in a public accommodation “based on what kind of sex they have.”

    “To date, homosexual activists have failed to produce a single example anywhere in Michigan, and we doubt the results will be any different in Greenville,” Glenn stated.

    I think the nutbar local minister thinking that sodomy is still a felony is more than enough justification for nondiscrimination ordinance.

  • I think that this supports my hypothesis that wingnuts think behaviors are declared evil because they’re punished, rather than punished because they are determined to be evil.

    Could also support my hypothesis that they’re unable to distinguish between illegal and unethical.

  • freehand

    I remember the unisex bathroom terror being presented to decent folk in the sixties. If girls [sic] get equal rights to men, won’t they want to use the same bathroom!? (As if using the guy’s bathroom were some sort of privilege.)


    Fundamentalists see equal rights for gays as some sort of slippery slope to all sorts of evils, perversions, and disturbing fashions. There are a couple of things going on here.

    1. Since morality is for them a list of rules from the Magical King / Daddy in the Sky which must be obeyed, then immorality is just breaking the rules, and all are interchangeable. That matter of informed consent is not on their radar. Rape, gay sex, sleeping in on the Sunday (but not the Sabbath). child molesting, and cigarettes are pretty much all equal sins. They think that liberal distinguishing between, say, rape and gay sex, is just a rhetorical device.

    2. The bible tells us that all of us are incapable of avoiding sin on our own (despite claims of free will), and the Fundies pretty much assume that we all lust after all conceivable evils all the time. They have no introspective ability – it’s trained out of them from birth – and so do not recognize that mostly they are not monsters. They just think they are. Since everybody has some desires that are on the Fundy horror list, they conclude that we all harbor all of these evil thoughts and therefore we would all be kitten-raping, grandma beating, Sunday-sleeping-in, shit-eating grinning fools if we weren’t kept in line by the fear of eternal torture by our loving Sky Daddy. You know, like atheists.


    Since they are confused on that whole informed consent thing, they don’t understand that equal rights for gays might indirectly lead to atheist chaplains or legalized pot but it won’t lead to legalized child molestation or public bestiality.

  • freehand

    Bronzedog – yes. Human laws are imperfect, but they are reflections of God’s laws – rules to be followed or disobeyed. They do not understand that ethics is about how we treat other people, and instead are obsessed with how obedient we are. The Fundamentalist religions will take a person’s natural predisposition to be authoritarian if present and turn it pathological.


    They have the moral development of a three year old (“Daddy will be mad if you eat those cookies”) and are criticizing the moral behavior of adults. If they are decent folks (and some Fundies turn out that way despite the best efforts of those around them) they still have the three year old’s moral philosophy to “explain” their own behavior or that of others.

  • blf

    I distinctly remember one of the “arguments” used against the ERA was that if it was ratified, then all toilets would have to be unisex.

    Change the words slightly, and it’s an “argument” against gay marriage: If gay marriage is allowed, then all marriages will be gay / all priests/priestesses/frauds would have to perform them / …

  • Morgan

    “a transgender boy that claims he is a girl, (can) use the girl’s bathroom at all schools and they will not be able to stop him.”

    It’s almost (but not really) funny that, if he actually knew what the terms he’s using meant, he might realize that a transgender boy is exactly who he would want to insist be forced to use the girls’ bathroom, and insisting he “claim he is a girl” is exactly what Austin wants him to do.

    But unfortunately it’s just depressing and angering, instead.


    It’s as if the religious right here thinks that boys will dress as girls in order to sneak peeks of women adjusting their bras and pantyhose in front of a mirror

    That really does seem to be exactly what they imagine, yes.

  • What would be so bad about unisex toilets, anyway? It would save business owners money on building facilities since one big restroom is cheaper than two small ones. (Also, you could get away with slightly less capacity due to scale issues.) You would think that would make Republicans get behind it.

  • bmiller

    I, too remember those bad anti-ERA arguments. It’s just shocking, shocking I tell you, how prevalent unisex bathrooms have become. It must be a Satanic conspiracy!

  • Some people just need to grow up a bit. My college dorm had unisex bathrooms and it was never a problem, if anything it actually discouraged people from making a complete mess of the bathroom. I remember using the bathroom in the all girl’s dorm and in the dorm where one wing was all boys (by coincidence of rooming situations, there was no all boys dorm on the campus) and both were far worse than the bathroom in my dorm. There’s just a little added social pressure I think when it’s not a single gender situation to not be a complete slob.

    I would love for there to be more gender neutral public restrooms. I’m usually read as female (especially if I’ve neglected to get my hair cut for a bit or I’ve dyed it pink or purple) but depending on how I’m dressed I’ve had people assume I was male, particularly when I was a teenager. I’ve never gotten too much grief over it since women are less likely to get confrontational over gender non-conformity in strangers but the nasty looks are bad enough.

  • lumi

    I spent the first two decades of my life in a small town near the slightly larger town of Greenville, Michigan (don’t know if it’s the same one Ed lives in), and I am astonished that this is even being discussed. And I mean astonished in the good way, that I wouldn’t have expected this kind of progress to come to that place and am pleased to be shown wrong. The young man leading this effort is quite brave to not back down in the face of the opposition.