Miami-Dade County

That awkward moment when Miami’s mayor stumbled into the transgender bathroom debate

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado speaks to city commissioners earlier this year.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado speaks to city commissioners earlier this year. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

No one sitting around the table on MiraTV’s Prohibido Callarse news-talk show Monday night asked Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado what he thought of North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law. But he wanted to have his say anyway.

“I do have a problem” with transgender people using the public restrooms of their choice, Regalado cut in, after another guest, former state Rep. J.C. Planas, had told host Roberto Rodríguez Tejera he didn’t. “I do have a problem,” Regalado continued, “because I have grandsons and granddaughters.”

And thus began 12 hours of uncomfortable explaining and re-explaining for Regalado, who found himself tangled in the complicated web of politics that surround the country’s latest civil-rights fight.

I do have a problem.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

North Carolina wants people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate. The U.S. Justice Department called the law discriminatory. On Monday, the state sued the feds — and the feds sued back.

Miami-Dade County already protects transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and use of public facilities. The city of Miami has similar protections for gender identity.

Still, over the course of two Spanish-language interviews — on TV Monday night and on radio Tuesday morning — Regalado struggled to articulate his position. At one point, he seemed to suggest that only transgender men and women who’ve had gender-reassignment surgery should be allowed into men’s and women’s restrooms, respectively, even while acknowledging to his incredulous questioners that it’d be impossible to verify.

That’s when another roundtable guest, Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi, jumped in, and brought up one of Regalado’s fellow Republicans.

“There’s someone in this community, very beloved, who has a transgender son: Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,” Amandi said. “His name is Rodrigo.”

Moments later, Rodríguez Tejera turned to Regalado: “Are you going to force Rodrigo to go into the women’s room?”

Silence.

“This is the problem,” Planas concluded.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Regalado protested.

“That’s what you said!” countered the fourth guest, Democrat and former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez.

On and on it went, with Regalado calling the North Carolina law “absurd” — but also referring to the bathroom question as a “moral” one.

Rodríguez Tejera gave Regalado another shot Tuesday on his Actualidad Radio show, also named Prohibido Callarse, or Silence Banned. Regalado didn’t exactly clear things up.

“If you haven’t been operated on, or if you’re not of another, defined gender, you shouldn’t go into a bathroom because that opens it up for perverts to go into bathrooms simply to look at people,” he said. “If you have the operation and have a defined gender, there are no problems.”

“Not everyone makes the decision to operate,” co-host Maria Fernanda Silva pushed back.

What he meant, Regalado later told the Miami Herald, was that transgender men and women, including those in transition, should be able to use the restroom of their choice. His problem, he said, is with “brazen” miscreants who might cross-dress specifically to peep on or molest bathroom goers.

That sort of wrongdoing would already be unlawful even without the North Carolina law. Transgender-rights activists view the cross-dressing threat as a scare tactic. Regalado conceded he’s heard of no cases of any transgender people — or people pretending to be transgender — engaging in bathroom crime.

Meanwhile, Ros-Lehtinen and her son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, plan to unveil a public-service announcement campaign next Monday with the advocacy group SAVE at Miami Dade College called “Family is Everything,” aimed at reducing prejudice against the LGBT community.

“Divisive rhetoric and discrimination against anyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, only hurts our nation,” the congresswoman said in a statement to the Herald. “Laws that seek to discriminate and draw false divisions between us do not appeal to the higher angels of our souls. Let’s come together and not divide in order to score political points.”

Miami Herald staff writers Steve Rothaus and David Smiley contributed to this report.

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