Thirteen years ago the Sylvia Rivera Law Project produced a documentary entitled “Toilet Training” that chronicled the discrimination, harassment, and violence gender-nonconforming people face when using the bathroom in public. The documentary depicted stories of transwomen who had been beaten and killed simply trying to relieve themselves. Recently, a Williams Institute Study found that over 54% of transgender individuals experience dehydration, urinary tract infections, and kidney infections due to avoiding bathrooms in public. I believe this is a human rights issue that must be addressed. Despite the growing body of LGBT advocacy, little has changed on the restroom front.
In an effort to protect transgender residents, a select number of states have enacted anti-discrimination laws that allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom that most closely matches their gender identity. In Maryland, for instance, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act updated the state’s existing Civil Rights Law to include protections on the basis of gender identity. This law prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation. This law, like other similar anti-discrimination laws requires an individual to use the bathroom consistent with their “core identity.”
This past Tuesday, however, the South Dakota Senate voted to approve a bill that will require public school students to use the bathroom based on their “chromosomes and anatomy” at birth. This week, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina is set to vote on an ordinance that would allow transgender people to use the bathroom that reflects their gender identify. While the Charlotte ordinance is inclusive of transgender individuals, it has ignited a surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) hateful controversy. A website and Facebook group titled “Don’t Do it Charlotte” urges the city to reject the ordinance. The advertising campaign demands “No Men In Women’s Bathrooms.”
Let’s be clear. Transwomen are not men. Transgirls are not boys. This type of language is dangerous and needs to stop. It invalidates the existences of transgender individuals.
Beyond deceitful language, the ad campaign specifically suggests that women and girls need protection while using the bathroom. This type of fear mongering reminds me of the equally stunning advertisements during the Prop 8 campaign. The “let’s protect our kids” mantra worked so well that the liberal state of California voted to deny same sex couples the right to marry.
So are women and girls in danger? If so, then these men in power should undoubtedly swoop in and find some sort of legislative solution to end all predatory behavior. However, there is little evidence (I would argue—no evidence) that suggests that allowing people to choose the restroom that conforms to their gender identity. This lack of factual basis did not stop Fox News from airing a fake story about a transgender student harassing girls in the bathroom.
Beyond the fact that these transphobic smear campaigns are based on absolutely nothing factual, Equality Maryland pointed out that “If someone goes into a restroom to ogle or expose themselves or harass or assault someone, what they are doing is illegal and they will be prosecuted – regardless of how they are dressed or what their sex is or what their gender identity is.”
This post does not intend to undercut the very real dangers that many women and girls face. Allowing transwomen the basic human dignity to relieve themselves in a safe space is not correlated, connected to, or the cause of any predatory behavior. Further, criminal statutes remain intact and aim to protect women and girls from predatory behavior.
Transwomen are women. Transgirls are girls. They need protection too, and that starts with equal access to the bathroom.