Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yay For The Press: The Gazette

Listen, I have said a lot of nasty things about the media here, but they have been really good through this latest little adventure. We saw Channel 7 report a hoax that was staged for them by the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, and The Examiner, at least the Baltimore edition, carried it, but just about everybody else has refused to be fooled by the red herring "bathroom" story. Uh, Fox News presented the bathroom story the other day, but who's surprised by that?

There's a story here, and we expect the media to carry it. The main story -- the news story -- is that the Montgomery County Council passed a bill extending the nondiscrimination law to cover gender identity, and a group has gathered petition signatures that may force a referendum in the November elections, if enough signatures are validated by the Board of Elections. There will be flurries of activity around that story, I'm sure there will be lawyers and activists, ahem, on both sides of the issue, personalities and events. But this is the story: a new bill, opposition, a possible referendum. Secondary to this, the issue of discrimination, the human-interest angle regarding those people who have changed from one sex to another, and investigations into the organized groups who despise them and oppose them.

The other part of the story is most interesting, at least to me, and that is the framing of the story. The group that is protesting the bill has framed the issue in terms of the use of bathrooms and locker-rooms, in particular the possibility that men, either transitioning male-to-female transgender persons or heterosexual voyeurs, exhibitionists, predators, pedophiles, etc., will be able somehow to go into ladies rooms by taking advantage of this law. That group wants people to be afraid of this possibility, and to vote against the bill by vividly imagining an event that one, is not prohibited under existing law, two, almost never happens, and three, will not be affected by the new law. Peeping, exhibitionism, and molestation are all prohibited by law, no matter whether you are transgender or not, and that won't change.

Supporters of the bill frame the discussion by noting that the bill is actually about discrimination. It protects a small and vulnerable segment of our society from discrimination in hiring and use of public accommodations and services. If a transgender person goes into a restaurant, they cannot be refused service because they violate somebody's expectations. If they try to hail a taxi and it's not occupied, they can get a ride. Things like that. Employment is the main thing, you can't fire a person or refuse to hire them because of their gender identity. There are a lot of sad stories out there, and this will protect a group who really needs it.

So far I have not seen a good press account of the framing issue, but that's what this is all about. As we watched signature gatherers this weekend, we heard them tell people that the law will require men and women to use the same bathrooms, that pedophiles can prey on children in ladies rooms, that exhibitionists can parade around in women's locker rooms without penalty by claiming to be transgender. None of this is true, but it will get people's attention and it was good enough to get people to sign the petitions. In fact, the same group was against the new sex-ed curriculum in Montgomery County Public Schools because it taught about sexual orientation; they changed one word in their name and now they're against this bill.

The fact is, they are simply anti-gay and anti-transgender, and will do anything to make life harder for members of those groups.

Let me congratulate The Gazette for Wednesday's excellent story on the successful petition gathering effort:
Opponents of allowing the county's an anti-discrimination law to include transgendered people have turned more than 28,000 signatures into the Board of Elections to bring the legislation up to a vote by county residents.

The group, Citizens for Responsible Government, formed after the County Council passed the legislation last year, needed 5 percent, or 25,001 valid signatures for the referendum in the November balloting. Opponents to anti-bias law turn in signatures

People -- that is news reporting! It's accurate, it's fact-filled, and it says nothing about "shower-nuts" or perverted men waving their festering penises at women in the ladies room. It doesn't take our point of view or the other guys', it gives the facts. And yes, I love the word "festering."

The reporters interview people from both sides of the issue:
Meanwhile, Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said Tuesday he is troubled by the misinformation he said is being spread by opponents of the law.

‘‘The thing that is sad to me is the level of vitriol,” Knapp said. ‘‘They are providing misinformation and scaring people,” he said, and the county will have to work to counter the misinformation.

Assuming all of CRG's signatures are valid, just what will the ballot question say?

‘‘We want to make sure it's simple for all county residents to understand the implications of this bill so they will see it as a clear 'yes' or 'no.' Yes, we want the bill as it is, or no, we do not,” said Michelle Turner, spokeswoman for the organization.

The other side gets their opinion printed, but without the phony junk about showers.

By the way, Michelle Turner was the original president of the group opposing the MCPS sex-ed curriculum. That effort has failed, this is their new crusade.

More facts:
The law broadens the county's existing laws to prohibit discrimination against transgendered people in housing, employment, cable television service and taxi service.

The County Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) approved the law after removing a contentious amendment that would have also regulated areas like bathrooms and locker rooms. Without the amendment, operators of those facilities would retain authority on who uses them.

But opponents, such as CRG - which initially argued against the bathroom provision - still argue that the law is too vague. And because of that argument and the group's petition process, the law has not gone into effect yet, said Michael Faden, a council attorney.

This is typical. The CRW got what they wanted, and so they decided they wanted something different. Man, we have gone through this a few times in the past three years, I'll tell you.
‘‘This is a referendum on a law,” Faden said. ‘‘If they get their signatures, then it won't take effect until the referendum, and depending on the answer, if voters want it, the law takes effect 30 days after the referendum; and if voters don't want it, [the law] doesn't take effect.”

Proponents for the county's law - including Dana Beyer, a transgendered female and staff member for Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg - have called CRG's process a series of scare tactics.

CRG has run into opponents who have challenged the group's mission and petition process. In the past few weeks minor skirmishes have broken out between volunteers collecting signatures for the group and opponents at grocery stores, schools and polling places last week. An attorney for the group is deciding whether to file a civil rights lawsuit because of alleged harassment.

‘‘We have found that this issue straddles every demographic and political line,” said Ruth Jacobs, an infectious disease physician in Rockville who leads the group. ‘‘The ease with which the signatures have been obtained and the indignation of the voters demonstrate how isolated the council is from its constituents.”

I was out there monitoring the petition drive, with others, and the only physical skirmishes we know of occurred when petition-peddlers pushed members of our group. I know of at least three incidents of assault on us by them, none where any of us touched one of them. Mainly we talked to the people with the petitions, to the people who were considering signing, to store managers, and we handed out flyers. We didn't block anybody or touch anybody, except for some hugs. You can scroll down to previous posts here and see the pictures, it was very peaceful, except for one Giant where they had petition-pushers who were essentially goons.

I love to be able say this: congratulations to Janel Davis and Margie Hyslop at The Gazette for keeping their heads on straight, for reporting the story as it actually exists, without getting caught up in our rhetoric or the other side's.

And let me say again, just because this is so encouraging: early on I said this would be a test for the press. We know who failed, a couple of outlets, but all the important news media, from network and local TV to radio (mostly) to printed press, have just done a remarkable and excellent job of reporting the actual news and resisting a sensationalistic fake story.


Anonymous grantdale said...

The Gazette reminded me of a question I was going to check: what % of the voters are needed to sign.


Frankly, I'm a little stunned that CRW had to whip themselves into such a frenzy for such a small proportion.

Jeepers, surely you could get 5% to sign for near anything? (particularly if you lied to them).

At the end of the day: 5% make themselves out to be a pain, requiring the other 95% to ultimately put them in their place.

How annoying and wasteful. Oh, yes, CRW is the revamped CRC isn't it...

February 21, 2008 2:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
Grant, don't forget they were originally "Recall the Montgomery County School Board", too

February 21, 2008 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am hoping that some young, enterprising journalist will take an interest in investigating the make-up, the objectives, and - most important of all - the sources of outside funding from organizations like the Focus on the Family, the Liberty Counsel, the Thomas More Law Center,et al. that keep this "shower/curriculum" group in existence. It would make an excellent disclosure for citizens of Montgomery County to read about how our community is being used to advance the objectives of these national proponents of hate, ignorance, fear, and bigotry.

February 21, 2008 9:17 AM  

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