On Thursday, Oklahoma legislators seemed to do something drastic: They proposed a bill that would declare an emergency to effectively stop transgender students from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity in public schools.
The proposal came in response to the Obama administration's guidelines telling federally funded schools to let trans people use the bathrooms and locker rooms for their gender identity. The guidance inspired some hysterical reactions — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, for one, tweeted, "JFK wanted to send a man to the moon. Obama wants to send a man to the women's restroom. We must get our country back on track."
So it would seem like Oklahoma's reaction is just the latest in an ongoing hysteria over transgender people and bathrooms.
Oklahoma legislators are absolutely overreacting. For one, they also proposed "articles of impeachment" against President Obama over the guidelines.
And in defending their bathroom bill, Oklahoma lawmakers have touted a myth that protections for trans people will allow men to disguise themselves as women to go into women's bathrooms or locker rooms and sexually assault or harass women. But several states and schools have had policies that let trans people use the bathroom or locker room for their gender identity for years, and they've never reported any sexual assaults or harassment linked to their policies.
But hysterics may not be the sole reason for the emergency declaration. Instead, there's a much more banal possibility: It's a typical procedural trick in local and state legislatures to make a piece of legislation take effect immediately, or at least sooner than it otherwise would. In some jurisdictions, legislation can takes months (90 days in Oklahoma) to take effect under normal circumstances. Lawmakers have found a way around this by attaching emergency clauses to all sorts of legislation.
Consider the phrasing Oklahoma used: "It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval."
The phrasing can be traced back to some old, boring laws. Take, for instance, legislation from 1916 that set funding for Oklahoma's insurance board. Or a much more recent bill, from this year, related to the "ownership of impounded water." Both had emergency clauses, but they're clearly not genuine emergencies. (The second bill took months to pass!)
Of course, it is still telling that Oklahoma lawmakers see their bathroom bill as urgent enough to include an emergency clause. But an emergency clause doesn't necessarily mean that legislators genuinely think their anti-trans bill is needed to stop an imminent army of sex offenders in bathrooms.