Tensions ran high on Capital Hill this week, after Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) launched into a surprisingly emotional diatribe against Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego professor of law, and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
At issue was Heriot's presentation to a House Judiciary Committee meeting on executive overreach. There, she planned to address the Department of Education's approach regarding campus sexual assault cases, and transgender bathroom access. But what began as a policy critique quickly transformed into a something else: A demonstration of very real, very raw fissure at the heart of the ongoing bathroom bill debate, in which passions and prejudices continue to simmer just below the skin, exploding into the open at the slightest provocation.
"Overreach," began Heriot's prepared testimony, "is the rule and not the exception."
The charge that the government has stepped beyond its mandated authority is, in and of itself, nothing new in the transgender bathroom debate. At least 12 states announced plans to sue the Obama administration after the President's recent directive instructing all public schools to allow trans students to use the restroom of their choice. Texas Governor Gregg Abbot, whose office has been at the forefront of the pushback against the president's directive, explained that the plaintiff states represent "the last line of defense against an unlawfully expansive federal government."
Still, allegations of overreach are one thing, but Heriot continued in her critique, adding later:
We are teaching young people a terrible lesson. If I believe that I am a Russian princess, that doesn’t make me a Russian princess, even if my friends and acquaintances are willing to indulge my fantasy. Nor am I a Great Horned Owl just because—as I have been told—I happen to share some personality traits with those feathered creatures.
It's a transgender characterization Heriot attempted to temper with the caveat that "very few actual transgender individuals are confused in this way."
That did little to assuage Rep. Lofgren, who voiced her frustrations in no uncertain terms.
"I gotta say, I found this rather offensive," Lofgren exclaimed. "It says to me that the witness really doesn’t know anything and probably has never met a transgender child who is going through, in almost every case, a very difficult experience finding themselves."
"I believe that the department’s guidance will help schools all over the United States in preventing the kind of violence and the harassment that these transgender kids find too often, so that’s all I’m going to say on that. You know, I think it’s very regrettable that that comment was put in the record, and I think it’s highly offensive."
When Heriot attempted to push back, Lofgren interrupted, stating bluntly "I think you're a bigot, lady. I think you're an ignorant bigot."
Presiding representative Steve King (R-IA) attempted to reign in his incised colleague, calling Lofgren's comments "out of order." Lofgren, however, did not relinquish, and said "we allow witnesses to say offensive things, but I cannot allow that kind of bigotry to go into the record unchallenged."