An Arizona House panel late Wednesday approved a measure targeting transgendered people who want to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with, voting along party lines to advance a bill that protects business owners who bar the practice.
The 7-4 vote concluded an hours-long parade of transgendered and straight people who tried to persuade the panel to oppose Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. John Kavanagh's bill. The crowd broke out in chants of "shame, shame, shame" as the vote on the bill sponsored by the conservative Republican passed.
Kavanagh had radically altered the bill after being faced with an outcry from advocacy groups, but that wasn't enough to keep about 200 opponents from attending a nearly 7-hour long hearing that concluded with several hours of testimony on the bill.
The original bill would have made it a crime for a transgendered person to use a bathroom other than his or her birth sex. The new bill instead seeks to shield businesses from civil or criminal liability if they ban people from restrooms that don't match their birth sex.
It was prompted by the recent passage of a Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance that social conservatives said prevented businesses from keeping transgendered people out of locker rooms, showers and bathrooms. Kavanagh said it would subject businesses to criminal charges and expose little children to "naked men in women's locker rooms and showers."
But the parade of witnesses Wednesday, many transgendered, said that was not only fear-based but just flat-out wrong.
"Search as you might there is not enough evidence that there is any risk in allowing a person with gender identity to use a restroom of their choice," said Claire Swinford, a Tucson resident who was born a man but identifies and dresses as a woman.
In fact, she said, being dressed as a woman actually puts her at physical risk from being attacked by a man while trying to use a men's restroom. "What your bill attempts to do is sacrifice my personal safety for somebody else's sense of discomfort."
Patty Medway, a transgendered woman who was born a man, said she's been using female bathrooms for years without a problem. She called on Kavanagh to back away from his effort.
"I've been using washrooms for 15 years and I don't want to be discriminated against, and I'm scared to go to a male washroom," she said.
Maureen Robinson, a Tucson woman, called barring transgendered people from using bathrooms silly.
"It has been a non-issue, it will continue to be a non-issue, unless this bill becomes law," she said.
But Kavanagh, backed by the six other Republicans on the bill, quickly advanced the bill anyway. It now goes to the full House for consideration after a routine review.
Only one person testified in favor of the bill. He said the Phoenix ordinance trampled on the rights the business community.
"I don't believe that the opposing side should be able to impose their views on others," said Nohl Rosen, a Phoenix small business owner. "The way I feel, this is just the liberal left forcing their views on the rest of us"
Democrats on the panel all voted against advancing the bill, which one called "over the top."
"Frankly. I think this is an embarrassment to our state,' said Rep. Stefanie Mach of Tucson.
Kavanagh began the hearing by telling the crowd his original bill went too far, and that he had completely re-written it after hearing criticism, including some from his own caucus in the House.
"What I'm doing is pre-empting these cities from prosecuting businesses that say they want separate (facilities)," he said. "I'm basically resetting the clock to before Phoenix passed the law."