Issues of equality and identity that seemed at the very least headed in the right direction last year — even if progress was slower than advocates would have liked — have now been hurled back into the realm of caustic cable news debates. At the moment, there's no better representation of this than the matter of rights and protections for transgender Americans. So: You should watch this anti-trans advocate dodge answering which bathroom Laverne Cox should. Consider that, for an anti-trans rights activist, it ought to be a pretty simple question to answer. That he finds it so difficult ends up making clear how baseless transphobic "advocacy" is.
The moment unfolded on Thursday night's episode of MSNBC's Hardball, hosted by Chris Matthews. On one side was Cox, the award-winning actor and transgender rights activist who shot into the national consciousness via her role on Netflix's Orange is the New Black. On the other was Travis Weber, the director of the Family Research Council's Center for Religious Liberty, and an opponent of transgender people being able to use the correct bathrooms for their gender identities.
To start with, Matthews interviewed Cox about her experience of the issue, asking why she believed Trump would allow transgender protections to be rolled back — despite his fleeting comments during the campaign suggesting he was fine with transgender people using the correct bathrooms for them.
Cox replied that the LGBT community understood full well that other high-profile names in the administration, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, were hostile to LGBT rights.
Matthews then asked Cox how her decision about which bathroom to use in public places (Matthews cited La Guardia airport as an example) had been impacted by the shift from the Obama to Trump administrations. C
ox replied that the politicization of trans bathroom access really isn't about bathrooms, but about whether trans people have a "right to exist in public space."
Cox laid out a clear, concise description of precisely what she thinks of these laws. The task for Weber was to counter the point Cox made, and lay out his own case for which bathroom she should use, and why. That is, if it really is about the safety and ethics of different people's bathroom access, as countless anti-trans voices proclaim.
Matthews asked Weber point-blank which bathroom Cox should use if she were at an airport. His non-answer, addressing only the "state's rights" angle, said it all.
Matthews tried again, practically pleading for a straight answer. "You care about this issue," he said. "What restroom should she use?"
Matthews again interjected, trying to steer Weber towards actually answering his question.
Things got a little testy here, as Weber suggested that Matthews was afraid to hear his answer. "Hardly," Matthews replied. "The way we do these programs is they're called interview programs, and I interview people, and when you come on this show you answer the question."
Weber responded in much the same way he did before, entirely ducking the question of which bathroom he believed Cox should use, and instead arguing it should be a matter for individual school districts and localities to decide.
He did eventually get around to claiming trans bathroom rights posed a harm to cisgender people, although he didn't really explain why, beyond a vague appeal to traditional norms ― he stated that it would be clearly harmful for a 14-year-old girl to share a locker room with somebody with "male genitalia," which led to a firm rebuke from Cox.
As Rich Juzwiak noted for Jezebel, this wasn't even the first time Weber tangled with Matthews, either. He appeared on a May 2016 episode of Hardball discussing the exact same issue, and failed over and over again to give a straight answer to the exact same question, albeit about transgender rights activist Jenny Boylan rather than Cox. In that interview, however, he finally gave a straight answer, saying "they can use the bathroom of their biological sex." This week, however, he was apparently not so brave.