Why Conservatives Increasingly Care Where You Pee
There’s a reason bathroom bills are exploding right now. It’s not just about trans visibility and a growing sense of transphobia in conservative communities as they’re forced to come to grips with the existence of the trans community. It’s also closely associated with the 2016 presidential election, in which Republicans want to maintain their stranglehold on Congress. For them, opposing trans rights dovetails neatly with the interests of the right, allowing candidates to come out swinging against civil rights to appeal to conservative voters. Moreover, reintroducing constant fear brings voters out for downticket races, as right-leaning voters will turn out in force to prevent state houses from passing inclusive legislation and they’ll also vote for Republican Congress members.
There’s alarming overlap between states where bathroom access is being debated and those with contested Congressional seats: Florida, Indiana and Nevada all face open seats, since Marco Rubio, Dan Coats and Harry Reid don’t intend to seek reelection. Representatives with a history of introducing and supporting bathroom bills could enjoy an edge with conservatives who want to limit trans rights.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is struggling, and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois will be going up against Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran who has crushed her opposition on more than one occasion. The GOP also hopes to pick up a seat in Colorado. In all cases, nudging on a bathroom bill could help tip the scales.
In the House, Rep. Alan Grayson is fighting for spot representing Floridians, while Colorado Republicans are eyeing Democrat Michael Bennett’s seat. Seats in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Nevada are also potential tossups that could turn into ferociously competitive races. Conservatives, highly skilled at crafting tight, single-issue political messages will likely engage with the subject of bathroom bills because they’re so high-profile.
For some, that might mean touting voting and performance records. Others might show up in support of such bills in the hopes of being able to bask in some reflected glory, and yet others will be making campaign promises relating to bathroom restrictions. With Republicans already employing transphobic rhetoric in support of such legislation, the base is primed to fear trans people in bathrooms and to see these kinds of bills as a natural extension of American values, designed to protect people from influences that conservatives describe as predatory.
It’s troubling that bathroom bills could be used in a naked ploy to dominate downticket races in this election, as it further demonstrates that American conservatives have perfected the art of striking fear into worried audiences. All it takes is the suggestion of danger to create a highly reactive response that could restrict trans rights even as the community makes its way into the daylight.
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