A challenge to nondiscrimination falls flat

Opponents of equality, recognizing that they are losing the public debate, have been arguing in a variety of contexts that recognizing the basic civil rights of transgender people, and of LGBT people generally, will somehow threaten the rights of others. These claims are always either nebulous or demonstrably false, so it is no surprise that they were soundly rejected by voters in Gainesville, FL in March of this year. The truth is that securing equality for transgender people in employment, housing, education and public accommodations harms no one and benefits everyone. Although opponents have tried to focus these debates on bathrooms, the truth is that transgender people have to use the bathroom just like everyone else.

This point is illustrated by an ill-conceived, and recently dismissed, lawsuit brought to challenge California Senate Bill 777, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression in education. Anti-equality groups brought this lawsuit last year, claiming that SB 777 is overly vague and violates the rights of teachers and students. They argued that students and teachers would be at risk of unintentionally discriminating against other students because they were unable to ascertain other student’s gender identities. They also argued that students’ safety and privacy would be threatened by having to share a locker room with a transgender student. Several LGBT organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case extensively rebutting these arguments.

Two weeks ago, the Sacramento Superior Court dismissed the suit, saying it was meritless. The court said there was no reason to think the law would be difficult to apply, and the fact that identical laws have been in place in numerous other jurisdictions, and in different areas of California law, without difficulty, indicates that it is not too vague. The court also said that the challengers failed to point to any instance in which the law threatened any individuals’ safety or privacy. The only incident alleged in the suit concerned a student who claimed he was forced to use the same locker room as a transgender student. The court said that this bare, “conclusory” allegation did not suggest any threat to anyone’s safety or privacy. The court appeared to accept, as the LGBT groups argued in their brief, that merely being uncomfortable around someone else is not a violation of one’s rights.

This ruling will doubtless be appealed, and just as surely it will be affirmed. The groups bringing the suit declined the court’s invitation to add further allegations showing how students or teachers would be harmed by the nondiscrimination law. Tellingly, the groups declined to do so. In court, opponents of equality can’t simply recite vague concerns about “privacy and safety”; they have to be able to back them up. The problem for equality opponents is that they can’t back these arguments up with any specifics; there is nothing to them.

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