Rock Hill pastor seeks local restroom law to keep transgender people out


On the same day that the state of North Carolina and the U.S. Justice Department filed dueling lawsuits over the state’s controversial “bathroom law,” one South Carolina pastor wants to go further.

Joey Deese told Rock Hill City Council on Monday that the city needs to take a “biblical stand” on the issue drawing national attention, and pass an ordinance that would prohibit anyone from using a public restroom that does not correspond to their biological sex.

The pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church said he plans to make the same request of York County Council, and is circulating an online petition to get both bodies to pass an ordinance “to protect our women and children” in restrooms and locker rooms.

He doesn’t want this to be an idle protest.

“Our goal is to get an ordinance passed,” Deese said. “But our main goal is to make sure everybody knows what’s going on.”

Despite the piling on of HB2 political backlash - aimed at North Carolina generally, as well as the city of Charlotte for kickstarting the fight with its own non-discrimination policy - some supporters of the law are not deterred from wanting a similar measure enacted in their own cities.

The turmoil over HB2 may be inspiring proponents in some corners to advocate harder for what they describe as safety and privacy protections in public restrooms.

In South Carolina, Republican Sen. Lee Bright introduced his own version of the law that would prohibit schools or government buildings from allowing transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice, and would potentially overturn several city and county non-discrimination ordinances that protect sexual orientation and gender identity. That measure ultimately failed to gather enough support to move through the Legislature after the backlash against North Carolina’s law.

But Deese’s preferred ordinance would go further in criminalizing bathroom access even at private businesses. He cited businesses within Rock Hill’s city limits like Starbucks, Target and Planet Fitness that have a policy of allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom or locker room of their choice.

Last year, a Michigan woman filed suit against Planet Fitness after the gym allowed a transgender woman to use the women’s locker room with her. A judge later threw out the complaint.

“As a pastor, I believe it’s Biblically wrong,” said Deese, who was also active in opposing the Charlotte city ordinance that led to the North Carolina Legislature’s HB2 vote. “A young girl can go into the Planet Fitness locker room, and a guy can go in and sit on the bench, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

He wants to see an ordinance passed modeled on one introduced in Oxford, Ala., in April. The small town, which hosts a Target, would have made it a misdemeanor for a transgender person to use a restroom that did not correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. Oxford City Council later voted down the measure out of concern it violated the same federal laws North Carolina now stands accused of violating.

Rock Hill City Council had no reaction to Deese’s proposal Monday, and Mayor Doug Echols later declined to comment on the idea. York County Councilman Britt Blackwell said he’s told Deese the ordinance is “not necessary” in South Carolina, echoing comments from S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

The latest proposal comes as no surprise to Ellen Green, co-founder of Affirmation of York County, a faith-based support group for the LGBT community and their families and friends.

“People seem to want to address this out of fear. They haven’t taken the research or read about the issue,” she said. “It seems like transgender issues now are in the same place gays and lesbians were 15 or 20 years ago.”

But Green hopes the focus on the issue now will lead to conversations that will lead to greater awareness of the challenges faced by transgender people, who she fears have been “left behind” while gays and lesbians have gained more acceptance in recent years.

Trans people have told her “for years they haven’t used a restroom,” Green said. “They just hold it because of the fear of assault or harassment.”

Affirmation recently hosted a Trans 101 class in response to the HB2 controversy to spread information about the community. It went so well they’re planning a Trans 102 course later this year.

“In a lot of ways, our children’s needs have been met,” Green said. “And the transgender seem like the next group that needs help.”

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome

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