“Bathroom Bills” and Other Conflicts

Libertarians are peacemakers, conflict resolvers. As a practical matter, we have to be. If people are in conflict and believe that the stakes are high, they will likely try to enlist government as their ally to force their opponents into submission. When that happens, liberty disappears. It is in the interest of libertarians to create, encourage, and use ways to resolve conflicts that are satisfying enough to all parties so that they will not be tempted to turn to government force. The “bathroom bill” now in the Texas Legislature can illustrate some ways that that can be done.

The Texas Legislature is considering a “bathroom bill” that limits which restroom transgender people can use. There has been a lot of opposition to it. There is nothing simple or trivial about this. I think both opposing sides have some valid points. However, many people on both sides also share common interests which could help them come to agreement. Both sides agree that privacy and safety are at stake here, and both sides agree that it matters who uses what restroom. Plus, both sides see this issue as one that fundamentally affects who they are, whether they are treated with respect, and how they fit into the world. It affects us all in an especially personal way. The problem (typical for our time) is that neither side is seriously listening to the other. Sometimes the contest degenerates to personal attacks. Nothing can be accomplished that way.

I would like to see a world where we all work to accommodate as many different kinds of people as possible (except aggressors), whether we agree with them or not. That helps to keep us free, and to keep the peace. When the Ft. Worth School Superintendent (the only one who comes out of the situation looking good) tried to find a compromise to do just that, he was quickly attacked by Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who supports the bathroom bill, and he was later indirectly attacked by then-President Barack Obama, who opposes measures like that. Both should have just left him alone to work things out in a context that he was familiar with.

We need an approach in which people on all sides talk to and listen to each other, and take each other seriously, even if they would rather not. Ironically, Patrick had a good idea (though it may have been an insincere rhetorical ploy). He said there should be a public forum before such a policy is put into place in a particular location. That sounds like a good start. It would also help to brainstorm to get a list of possible solutions. For example, it might help to make decisions locally rather than centrally, to address different situations. A mixture of different kinds of “facilities” to allow people choices might also be useful. That will likely cost money, but money is useful because we can choose to spend it on worthwhile things, such as resolution of conflicts. In any case, I think libertarians need to be thinking along these lines, because with an increasingly complex world, and with the growth of technology, we will see more and more conflicts just as troublesome as this one.

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