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Battle Over Bathrooms and Gender Rights Spreads




The battles over bathrooms and gender identity rights are spreading throughout the American South. A controversial North Carolina law on the topic has brought a national backlash. However, other states are still tossing around the political football of transgender rights that local pols are proposing with November elections in mind, and many are ignoring an easy solution. South Carolina is just the latest state to consider a bill similar to their neighboring state’s that would require transgender people to use locker rooms, dressing rooms and public restrooms that reflect their sex at birth versus what they identify with now.

The so-called “bathroom bills” are fueling debates in many arenas about privacy, religious freedom, equal rights and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. They have drawn stern reactions from the business world, other politicians and entertainers who call them discriminatory.

The South Carolina bill, which was debated Wednesday at a heated subcommittee hearing, would require transgender people to use facilities based on their birth sex. Picture being a transgender woman (born a man) and living life as a female having to use a men’s dressing room to try on women’s clothing at a store.

Supporters argue that opening restrooms and locker rooms to the opposite gender in places like schools violates students’ right to privacy. What about using a locker room or restroom with someone of the same sex but is gay? The proponents do not argue that usage in that situation is a violation of privacy; would that not be equally uncomfortable if one buys their argument?

The SC Republican Senator who sponsored the measure, Lee Bright, indicated that he feared that adult men would use exploit bathroom policies to prey on women and children. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles answered Bright at the hearing, indicating lack of awarenss that there have been assaults by transgender people or people pretending to be the opposite sex in South Carolina bathrooms. Proponents in other states have not proposed such evidence either.

Facing with political and economic fallout, North Carolina’s Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, tweaked his state’s law on Tuesday. He issued an executive order designed to protect state employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, it does not change the bathroom requirements part of the law for them or give protection to nonstate employees at a time when several large companies have halted plans to add jobs in North Carolina or build facilities.

Besides the Carolinas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and, the lone Northern state so far, Minnesota have been considering, recently addressed similar initiatives or have recently tackled the issue. This is in spite of the belief that the North Carolina law will wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court as an issue.

Minnesota, for example, has a hearing scheduled this week on a bill that covers individuals “having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness.” The protections in the measure reportedly do not extend to “restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms or other similar places” in public places.

It is easy to see the awkwardness and intentions on each side. However, there is a solution that many shopping malls, stadiums, restaurants and even clothing stores have incorporated – gender-neutral facilities. True, in many stadiums and malls they are billed as family restrooms, but the intention is that a father can take a daughter to the restroom. As for dressing rooms in clothing stores and other changing rooms, if the door shuts does it matter who is in the room next door?

Dressing rooms, locker rooms and restroom facilities can be awkward to use in the best of situations but opening them up for use by all eliminates any uncomfortable feelings. As the battle over bathrooms spreads this election year, it seems the best gender rights solution is to accept everyone and accommodate them without any discomfort on the part of anyone.

Opinion by Dyanne Weiss


Washington Post: Bathroom access for transgender people debated across South
Reuters: Critics slam proposed South Carolina transgender bathroom bill
The Charlotte Observer: Pressure builds on HB2

Photo of AIGA toilets courtesy of U.S. Department of Transportation (Public Domain)