November 11, 2015 at 5:31 pm EST | by Mark Lee
Twin toilet traumas torment both Houston and D.C.
bathroom, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo public domain)

Bathroom brouhaha bubbled to the surface in disparate regions of the country last week on the same day – and for very different reasons.

These two toilet traumas papered over the real issues in both Houston and D.C.

A ballot measure in Space City delivered a resoundingly wide margin defeat of a transgender-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in the nation’s fourth largest city with a population greater than 15 states. Despite supporters of the law outspending opponents nearly three-to-one, voters overturned a Houston City Council measure largely on the strength of a campaign raising public fears about men using women’s bathrooms if personally deemed consistent with their gender identity.

Had the law been upheld it would have extended civil protections based on 15 separate characteristics, of which sexual orientation and gender identity were only two. Similar laws are already in effect in the Texas cities of Dallas, Austin, Forth Worth, Plano and San Antonio, as well as most major cities and nearly 20 states covering a combined majority of the national population.

No bastion of backwardness, Houston is governed by a term-limited lesbian mayor elected three times and with local legislators eager to approve one of the most expansive anti-discrimination laws in the country. It’s a diverse city with racial and ethnic minorities comprising more than 70 percent of residents.

It was the inability of those supporting the law to both combat the potty predator propaganda and win votes among blacks and Hispanics included in its protections that turned the tide. Polls had shown the once-popular measure earlier enjoying a sizable lead among voters. It was the controversy over transgender bathroom selection that opponents utilized to overturn it.

In the District, the Council intensely, heatedly and emotionally argued over whether to mandate that future family shelter facilities be required to provide individual bathrooms in each unit. Mayor Bowser’s nascent plan to replace the broke-down D.C. General behemoth with smaller shelters scattered across the city relies on both private bathrooms and facilities shared by up to five units, depending on structural configurations. Guaranteeing private bathrooms for all families reportedly requires a $28 million additional expenditure for a projected six sites.

It was defeated by a 9-4 vote.

Of note, arguments for guaranteeing individual bathrooms echoed those influencing the Houston anti-discrimination ballot battle. A survey of families warehoused at the city’s dilapidated and badly managed shelter indicated that sending children unaccompanied to shared bathrooms caused significant safety fears.

However, as in Houston, the debate obscured and substituted for what should have been the focus and discussion.

Three decades ago D.C. became a pioneer in sheltering the homeless. In 1984, District voters made the city the first in the country to guarantee provision of “safe, sanitary, and accessible shelter space, offered in an atmosphere of reasonable dignity.” The city has now fallen far behind other jurisdictions in developing and implementing innovative and successful programs both offering shelter and moving the homeless toward permanent housing and sustainable lives.

D.C. is stuck in an outdated mode of simply corralling the homeless in squalid conditions at extraordinary expense or outsourcing them to motel rooms at great cost. At a price per family of nearly $55,000 per year to do so little so poorly, the District government could place homeless families in shiny new penthouse apartments in the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Pitiful program performance without improvements in outcomes has become the trademark of local services. Worse, elected officials seem content to aspire to less than the success of other locales in addressing the same intractable problems in similarly daunting housing markets.

Until officials stop wrangling over bathrooms and begin to exercise appropriate oversight, insist on public-private sector partnerships succeeding elsewhere, and undertake the hard work of implementing comprehensive approaches that alter lives, the homeless and the poor will remain relegated to the endless horror of government agency caretaker dependency.

Houston has a problem with bathrooms, but this week D.C. did too.


Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

  • It was the right wing that said gay rights would never be enough for gay rights advocates, and painted unimaginable scenarios like these. And here their predictions have come true!

    • First off, the D.C. bill had nothing to do with gay rights. It was about providing homeless families with their own private bathrooms instead of making them share with adjacent families, and it’s the job of the elected officials to debate whether we should spend a lot of money for that. They decided not to. But… but… GAY PAY-POLL!!!

      The Houston bill wasn’t bathroom-centric, but conservatives realized they could stir up primal emotions in people if they honed in on wacky scenarios involving bathroom attacks. No one could have predicted conservatives would use fear to galvanize people! Hah.

  • So so called “progressives” can’t be right in both cases. If people forced to attend government monopoly schools have no right to privacy and freedom of association when it comes to a choice to shower only with their own gender, why do homeless people who are wards of the state have a right to privacy and freedom of association when it comes to not sharing bathrooms with strangers. Pick one.

    • Because comparing a public school system to shower-sharing issues makes sense. You so-called “whatevers” are as rational as always!

      • I think this topic may be a bit abstract for you. Public schools are warehouses people are compelled to report to – where traditionally Lgbt kids are bullied. Compelling people to then shower with others, especially those they do not want to shower with, like the opposite gender, is an additional assault, in the direction of rape.

        • Requiring an education for our society’s children is not an assault. It’s funny you cite abstract topics when you can’t even grasp elementary ones :D

          • You are a complete moron, perhaps assaulted by the state monopoly schools. In DC many drop out and many graduate ignorant and unemployable. Their stolen lives, hopes, and futures are your crime. It’s one of the central forms of evil, and of racism, in America today.

          • Ad hominem attacks and hyperbolic rhetoric not only reflect poorly on yourself but also on whatever type of education you did receive. I feel sorry for those who have to deal with you in person.

          • No you are a simply moronic, and eithwr a profiteer and apologist for the failed schools, which in DC fail to graduate over 30% of kids on time, and provide no skills do those who do, so that native born DC residents have high unemployment rates in a city with low unemployment for everyone else, or you are a completely irrelevant ignoramus. Your defend this failed and objectively racist system, and when called on it you evade the issue and yourself engage in ad hominem attacks. You are like one of the painted gibbering fools in the capitol in The Hunger Games, and you deserve the same fate.

          • Saying I initiated the ad hominem attacks when you clearly did gives away your game, troll. Have a nice day :)

          • You remain a silly fool. You began by idiotically championing our failed school systems, and when called on it you called me a troll, a “whatever,” and suggested I was not rational, and speculated about how I must be a burden to my friends. You keep trying to deflect from the substantive issue into who called who a name first or more often, while continuing to do it yourself. Tiresome air heads who worship the system and the ruling class are a dime a dozen. You can throw a brick anywhere in DC and hit several. The gay community has too many such sad sacks already. It doesn’t need you for more bad PR.

          • Your hyperbole has swallowed all of your sense. My original comment was 1 sentence and merely pointed out the silliness of comparing of requiring an education for our children to “assaulting” them. This in no way represents the “championing” of anything.

            And I’ll add “fool” and “air heads” to “moron” on your list of favorite insults. I’m sure we can really build that sucker up, given time. I’m confident that your anger issues will get us there :)

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