The circumstances in which such measures are fought are always particular and immediate to their place and time. But each also may offer some insights useful to the continuing struggle for full equality for any of us who differ from conventional norms.
There are always recriminations after a defeat like this. Michelangelo Signorile provides a catalogue for this occasion:
I have no way of knowing whether that is a fair assessment of the campaign's failings. I've certainly seen and experienced similar indictments after gay rights campaigns before -- and these complaints were usually somewhat accurate. The people who get us into and lead these fights -- economically secure, usually white, LGBT leaders -- are usually not the same people as the queers who would have to put themselves on the line in their own communities to win them.
And this time around, the right wingers and Christianists made sure the fight was about public bathrooms. Apparently we walked into this one.
Creepy and false, but damned effective.
Public bathrooms are always a bit fraught for most women -- maybe most people. After all, we enter them in order to perform what most of us think are very intimate function -- in a place open to strangers! My friend, Rinku Sen, explains cogently why we (all humans) are so good at perceiving "race" even when we are not aiming to be "racist."
And just as quickly we filter our reactions to unknown persons by tribe and race, we also filter for gender -- anyone of the "wrong" or of hard-to-determine gender creates anxiety. Bathrooms are the perfect arena for this.
Once upon a time, pretty much all LGBT people inspired this kind of gender anxiety in pretty much everyone (even some gay people). The accomplishment of the gay movement, through mass coming out and a lot of individual bravery, has been to render many of us just a normal part of the social fabric.
But some people (not all LGBT) who can't or won't conform to gender norms still set off alarms in the anxious environment of public bathroom. I know -- I'm a 68 year old white woman-identified woman who has that effect in airport restrooms. It's annoying to have women gasp when you emerge from the stall. This reaction is no threat to me, but it might be to a young person or a person of color using what others thought was the "wrong" facility.
We can expect right-wingers to run with this anxiety as far as they can stretch it. In California, proponents of an initiative to repeal the right of students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify have until November 20 collect enough signatures to qualify for the 2016 election. They just might do it; that will probably depend on whether national anti-gay organizations have thrown down the money to do the job.
Even if this threat passes as previous initiative attempts have, the Houston defeat means fights over bathroom access aren't going away. Some of the most vulnerable members of our communities will be on the line in these fights. How are we all there with them?
Graphic via Media Matters which has taken up the thankless task of reminding journalists that equal rights are not solely about bathrooms.