JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The fight over expanding Jacksonville's Human Rights Ordinance to include gay, bisexual and transgender people is becoming a battle over bathroom rights.
The Florida Family Policy Council, which has organized opposition to a proposed ordinance to add LGBT protections to the city's HRO, has said the ordinance would make public restrooms unsafe.
The fear is the law would allow anyone of any gender to walk into any public restroom. Those in favor of the bill say that is ridiculous and discussing it is just a scare tactic. But focus on this issue was effective in defeating a similar proposal in Houston.
"Any man at any time (can enter a women's restroom) simply by claiming to be a woman that day," a commercial used in the Houston campaign said. "No one is exempt. Even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom and, if the business tried to stop them, they be fined."
Last week a group of ministers and others speaking at First Baptist Church used the same approach in announcing they were launching a petition drive to defeat Jacksonville's HRO ordinance, should City Council put a referendum on the ballot for August or November.
They say if HRO passes, it would give any person the legal right to use any restroom.
"Keep the men out of women restrooms; keep the men out of women’s showers by just saying no to the HRO," said Fred Newbill of First Timothy Baptist Church.
But a group that supports HRO says that’s not the case. It points to a study by Media Matters which found that seven cities in Florida that have this protection for transgender, including Atlantic Beach, have not had any problems with restroom in which a suspect said he was allowed.
"The problem is that is not how sexual predators work," said Carlos Maza, of Media Matters. "It’s not how sexual predators pick targets. Realistically, if sexual predators wanted to do that, they are not going to be persuaded by a women-only sign. ... It’s just silly. It’s not how criminals think."
The group of ministers point a list of crimes from eight crimes across the country where men have dressed up like woman and have gone into bathroom to commit crimes or take pictures
"It does exist," Liberty Council attorney Roger Gannam said. "Logic tells us if we make it easier for men to gain access, predators to gain access to women's facilities. We're not talking about men who identify themselves as transgender; we're talking about men who simply want to dress up as women to gain access. It will happen more frequently, as we've already seen it happen in jurisdictions that have these laws on the books."
Media Matters says those crimes would have happened with or without HRO laws.
"I don’t know if it would be couched in those terms if it were a voyeurism-type case," said State Attorney Angela Corey. "There have been some of those, but I don’t know if that was related specifically to the issue you asked about. I can’t recall any prosecutions about that."
News4Jax has called Atlantic Beach to check Media Matters' claim that there have been no issues, but has not heard back from the city. News4Jax have also asked the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for a list of crimes committed in a restroom involving a person of the opposite sex and is still awaiting that report.
The only high-profile case involving a crime in a restroom occurred in a Best Buy store in which the man followed a girl into the bathroom, but he made no attempt to disguise himself as a woman. His prosecution is awaiting the determination of his mental competency.