Houston Baseball Legend Stokes Trans Bathroom Panic
Houston Astros legend Lance Berkman is afraid that his four daughters could use the same restroom as transgender women, and he wants you to know about it.
In an ad for Campaign for Houston—a PAC opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an LGBT nondiscrimination measure supported by Mayor Annise Parker that will be decided by a ballot proposition on Nov. 3—Berkman introduces himself with his baseball credentials before segueing into some of the worst transphobic fear-mongering the debate over LGBT legal protections has seen so far.
“My wife and I have four daughters,” the recently retired athlete says in the ad. “Proposition 1 would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms.”
Berkman adds in a behind-the-scenes video for the spot that the idea of transgender people is “a little strange to [him],” before sounding the alarm over the possibility that a child predator could abuse the ordinance to attack his daughters.
“As a husband and a father, you feel like you’re in a position of protector over your family,” Berkman says. “I would like to protect my girls from as many threats that are out there as I possibly can.”
In the October buildup to the vote, Campaign for Houston has been getting as much mileage out of the onetime MLB player as it can. Berkman, who played for the Astros from 1999 to 2004, has been featured in radio spots, and one Houston resident told The Daily Beast that he has been receiving robocalls featuring a recorded message from Berkman for the past few weeks. As Proposition 1 picks up endorsements in the final days before the election, Berkman’s star status has been invoked as proof that the anti-HERO campaign is still going strong.
Asked if Campaign for Houston was struggling, spokesman Jared Woodfill told KPRC, “Absolutely not,” adding, “We’ve got a lot of high-profile people, including Lance Berkman and others, who’ve taken a strong, principled stand.”
Right off the bat—pun intended—it should be made clear that Berkman’s widely publicized fears about transgender people in bathrooms are completely unsubstantiated.
As The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson noted earlier this year, “To be clear, there is not a single case—not one—of a trans woman assaulting other women in a public restroom.”
The Advocate also confirmed in March that “there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender [non-transgender] person.” In April, Mic surveyed the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Center for Transgender Equality, none of which could find statistical evidence of the sort of violence that critics like Berkman fear will result from nondiscrimination ordinances.
Indeed, as Mayor Parker noted on Twitter, Berkman and his family have already lived in cities that have LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances.
On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to prove that bathrooms are dangerous and often inaccessible places for transgender people.
In a survey of transgender people by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law (PDF), 68 percent of respondents reported experiencing verbal harassment in a public restroom, and 9 percent reported experiencing a form of physical assault. Eighteen percent had been denied access to a public restroom. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (PDF) found that 22 percent of transgender employees had been denied access to an appropriate restroom in their own workplace.
Going to the bathroom is an experience fraught with anxiety for transgender people. And for good reason—unlike the specter of the trans bathroom predator that critics like Berkman repeatedly raise, stories about the violence trans people face in bathrooms can be confirmed.
In 2011, a young transgender woman named Chrissy Lee Polis tried to use the restroom at a McDonald’s in Maryland and was brutally beaten by another woman and a 14-year-old-girl. A McDonald’s employee simply filmed the incident rather than intervene. The employee was later fired and Polis’s adult attacker was imprisoned.
Berkman’s advertisements highlight one of the cruelest ironies of today’s anti-trans panic: While critics suggest repeatedly that transgender people in bathrooms are dangerous, bathrooms are one of the most dangerous places for transgender people to be.
And although Berkman might find transgender identity “a little strange” or believe that transgender people are “troubled,” his 15-year career in baseball doesn’t exactly credential him to contradict the conclusions of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Public Health Association, and several other leading health-care associations (PDF). Even with more than 350 home runs.
Campaign for Houston did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment and clarification. A spokesperson for the Houston Astros told The Daily Beast that the team has no comment on Berkman’s participation in Campaign for Houston.
Houston’s HERO legislation—a nondiscrimination ordinance that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations—has been caught in legal and judicial turmoil for over a year.
In 2014, Mayor Parker, who is openly lesbian, introduced the legislation to the Houston City Council, where it passed 11-6 last May to the dismay of some local pastors, who supported a campaign to repeal the ordinance by petition. In July of this year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance must either be repealed or put on the ballot. Now, on Nov. 3, Houstonians will decide on HERO in what looks to be a tight vote: Support for HERO is at 43 percent and opposition at 37 percent in the latest poll.
With Texas often named as one of the worst states in the country for LGBT people, the debate over HERO in Houston has drawn national attention. Houston is the fourth-most populous city in the United States and the most populous to elect an openly gay mayor.
With no evidence to support the anti-transgender scare tactics that are often used to argue against nondiscrimination ordinances, opponents like Berkman frame the issue as a matter of preventing crimes rather than responding to an established threat. In his Campaign for Houston ad, Berkman says, “It’s better to prevent this danger by closing women’s restrooms to men rather than waiting for a crime to happen.”
This despite the fact that nondiscrimination ordinances have already been passed in other major cities without incident and laws are already in place to prosecute anyone who enters a restroom for the wrong reasons, according to the Parker administration.
“It is already illegal for anyone to enter a restroom to cause a disturbance,” Janice Evans, chief policy officer for Mayor Parker, told The Daily Beast. “That will not change if HERO remains in place.”
Berkman might be a local legend, then, but his opposition to Proposition 1 is based in myth.