KETR

Rockwall 'Bathroom Bill' Fails - A Win For Business?

May 9, 2016

A proposed "bathroom bill" in Rockwall was introduced at a May 2 public meeting, but failed to receive the support from the city council to bring the measure to a vote. 

“I don’t know why we’re having to have this conversation about public restrooms” – Rockwall Mayor Jim Pruitt.

Rockwall Mayor Jim Pruitt, who introduced the ordinance, which said that an individual’s bathroom use would be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. The ordinance also outlawed any business from having any type of multi-use AND gender-neutral bathroom or changing room.  

No other council member was in favor of the ordinance as-written. Which sounds like a win for transgender people, the LGBT community, and everyone’s personal liberty and ability to find a place to pee in peace.

And it is. Sort of.

While none of the other councilmen ultimately supported the ordinance, only two of them were against the idea from the start, and only one of those two cited an individual’s civil rights or personal liberty as a deciding factor.

“As stated in our founding documents, we’re all created equal and we deserve equal protection under the law” – Councilman David White

5 of the 7 councilmen thought that the ordinance, which specifically scrutinizes the bathroom use of people that do not visually appear as traditionally male or female, was initially a good idea. But they also thought the ordinance was unenforceable.

“I’m not convinced it has the proper ability to accomplish what we’re trying to do” – Councilman Mike Townsend

“This doesn’t achieve the intention that it needs to.” – Councilman Kevin Fowler

But most importantly, the council felt that the ordinance was an overreach of government into private business affairs.

“I have a lack of appreciation for adding a lot of regulation onto businesses.” – Councilman John Hohenshelt

“…and I’m of the opinion that less is more…”– Councilman Scott Milder

“Government should stay out of private businesses’ affairs as much as possible.” – Mayor Pro-Tem Dennis Lewis

Even the single councilman that did speak to civil rights and the founding ideals of this country saw property rights as the obvious concern.

“When I first saw this, I [thought] this is a property rights issue.” – Councilman David White

That point is valid, too. As the ordinance is a good example of significant government overreach. Such a reason is also a good one to oppose such laws. That is was the most important reason, and that the council saw no civil rights issues as a whole, should be troubling, though.

As “bathroom bills” like this are being tested around Texas and the nation, such reasoning may be worrisome for those that see this as an obvious issue of personal liberty.

Now, there are some cities in the country that have passed ordinances to make all single-use public bathrooms designated as gender neutral, but there have been no laws introduced or passed to erase multi-use gendered bathrooms altogether. And such a suggestion…the erasing of formerly safe places (especially for women) is an understandably emotional suggestion. And people were emotionally charged over this in Rockwall, and not necessarily for the better.

Disgust for transgender people was apparent from a few.

“…but in my world, we have a little class, and we don’t show sex toys to kids. And y’all can boo all you want.” – public comments

“The Lord called it [an] abomination.” – public comments

Those protesting the ordinance got not-so-nice as well…

(shouts from crowd)

But again, the erasing of gendered bathrooms altogether is not the issue at hand, and it is not the corporate policies of the businesses in question. And that’s an important distinction, because in Rockwall last Monday, logic and civility ultimately won out.

People of differing opinions and wildly diverse lives directly addressed their elected officials, and despite a very few examples, everyone was good to each other when they had to look each other in the eyes.

As the issue becomes bigger, more distant at the state and national level, as those elected officials do not have to look their constituents in the eye…the raw emotion may have more sway. And here, those emotions are mostly fear and anger. On all sides.

There’s just no reason for that when, in truth, the policy really is that if you look like you aren’t causing any trouble…please, just go pee in peace.

(This commentary originally aired during Weekend Edition on KETR May 7. The editorial opinion expressed is that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of KETR or Texas A&M University-Commerce)