The Battleground in the Bathroom: the Controversy over Transgender Bathroom Rights

In recent years, the right of transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their preferred sex has become more acknowledged than ever before. This controversy was brought along with the revision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include the Equality Act, which protects sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the addition of this protection to the Act failed to pass the House of Representatives. Since this consideration, the question of whether civil rights protections should include a right for people to use the bathroom of their choice has remained unanswered, and has caused a stir of controversy.

The dispute over transgender bathroom usage first gained attention, in 2016, when the North Carolina legislature stated that there is a constitutional issue with transgender individuals using the bathroom of their preferred sex. A statute, House Bill 2, was put in place because of this, and proposed the ban of individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex. The North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore supported this bill; stating that “One of the biggest issues was about privacy…The way the ordinance was written by city council in Charlotte, it would have allowed a man to go into a bathroom, locker, or any changing facility where women are….” In addition to passing this legislation, the general assembly spent $42,000 on the policy to repeal all local non-discriminatory laws, as well as exclude gay and transgender people from legal protections. By doing so, transgender individuals were left vulnerable to scrutiny over which bathroom they chose to use, and often incarcerated for doing so.

Although the North Carolina Legislature tried to pass this bill, the Justice Department immediately filed a lawsuit; claiming that the transgender bathroom policy violated Title IX and the Education Acts Amendment—banning gender discrimination in school systems. However, the Obama administration supported this lawsuit to prevent this type of discrimination from happening again. Attorney Loretta Lynch states how there have been “discriminatory responses to historic movements of progress,” noting examples such as Brown v. Board of Education, the Emancipation Proclamation, and state bans of same sex unions. Further, she explains how efforts will be made to shut down this bill, as well as future bills that promote such inequality. After these actions took place, the federal jurisdiction in North Carolina finally ended in a settlement that allows transgender individuals to use the public restroom of their choice—a victory for LGBTQ+ activists.

However, more complications have risen over the issue of public school bathrooms since the litigation. The Trump administration initiated a rollback on public school bathroom requirements for transgender students. The repeal of this requirement was a response to a perceived legal overreach that the Obama administration made; however, the Trump administration believed this was best left for the states to handle. The Obama administration’s earlier interpretation was that Title IX applies to gender identity; however, the Equality Act was never made a law, which is why this interpretation raised much opposition. To this day, no solution has been proposed, and the decision on how Title IX should pertain to transgender bathroom rights is still a factor being left to the states. 

Although there are still many constitutional disagreements in Congresson on whether transgender bathroom rights should be covered by Title IX, many transgender people have spoken out about the ongoing issue. A young transgender woman, named Lara America from Raleigh, North Carolina, told Rolling Stone Magazine, “Early in my transition, it was hard because I didn’t blend in well as a female, but I really don’t look like a male either…When I did, I had to sprint into it and wait in a stall until everyone was gone, and then run out as fast as I could.” Lara continues by stating how she feels that transgender people are more in danger of threats and harassment than the average individual, and how this can cause a fear to enter into any public bathroom. 

Many transgender individuals agree with Lara’s statement, and it is quite valid given recent statistics on the issue. In 2015, transgender people reported feeling signifigant discrimination and harrassment; especially in bathrooms. According to the 2015 U.S Transgender Survery, 10% of respondants reported being denied access to a restroom, 12%  reported being verbally abused in a public bathroom, and 1% reported being physically abused in a public bathroom. With these numbers being significantly higher than they should be, Lara is only one example of someone who is frightened by the harassment that many transgender people have gone through in public restrooms. 

Even though there are people who see that transgender people should have the right to use the bathroom of their choice, there are many activist organizations that disagree. An example is a group called the Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). Their opinion is that transgender women should not have the right to use the bathroom of their choice because transgender individuals have not undergone the series of feminine issues that many biological women have to deal with from the ages of 13 and older: pregnancy, menstruation, premenstrual syndrome, and more. As stated from Bloomberg QuickTake: Hard-To-Explain Topics, Explained Simply, ​“Feminist critics argue that being authentically female requires experiencing women’s particular hardships, which they say is impossible for someone raised with male privileges.” 

Although some cisgender women may feel this burden, many transgender people see the issue differently. Transgender individuals often feel that going through the experience of transitioning is enough to know the hardships that a woman may go through. Transitioning can include: 

  • social transition—choosing the way you present yourself in public
  •  medical transition —being prescribed hormone blockers to prevent the release of estrogen or testosterone 
  • cross-sex transition—taking hormones to develop as the gender you identify with 
  • legal transition—changing your name assigned at birth, as well as the pronouns you use, on legal documents. 

For these reasons, transgender people see the transition process as being a valid reason to feel accepted in the bathroom of their choosing. However, many cisgender women still disagree with the idea of accepting a transgender woman in a female restroom. 

  Sadly, there will never be a way to please both sides in this argument. Nonetheless, there are solutions that could be implemented to aid with this conflict. One of these ideas is the implementation of gender-neutral bathrooms made for all individuals to use—regardless of gender identity. By doing so, transgender individuals could have a facility where they feel more comfortable. One supporter of this resolution is Chloe Maguire Sedgqick: a writer who identifies as non-binary; stating that “…walking into a male and female bathroom just does not feel right. Every time I need to use the bathroom, I am inadvertently forced to misgender myself. Misgendering is an issue because it makes trans people feel dysphoric…” Chloe goes on to explain how dysphoria can lead to mental and physical disorders, and how having gender-neutral bathrooms is necessary to aid in these situations. 

Not ontly would gender neutral bathrooms help transgender people, they could also benefit cisgender parents as well. In 2017, the toilet paper company Angel Soft began airing a commercial of a father raising his daughter. This commercial included a series of bathroom clips, including one of the father standing in line for the women’s restroom with his child. Many women began looking at the father in disgust, but he proceeded to tell the women that he was just waiting in line so he could help his daughter use the restroom. This commercial advocated gender-neutral bathrooms for not only the LGBTQ+ community, but for single parents as well. According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, 27% of children were being raised by a single parent; meaning that a large number of single parents could benefit from the gender-neutral bathroom facilities being promoted by Angel Soft.

Although gender-neutral bathrooms have many benefits, they can have many pitfalls as well. Offering private bathrooms may be a good idea to help transgender individuals feel more comfortable, but they are not as widely available and can be costly to build. Alejandro Ortiz, an architect based in Los Angeles, estimated that it could run anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 depending on how big of a bathroom the contractor is building on to a business. This price can add up quickly for many states, and results in gender-neutral bathrooms not being cost-efficient. 

Another solution that could help transgender individuals with bathrooms could be having multiple-occupant, gender-segregated bathroom facilities; in addition to single-occupant, gender-neutral restoom facilities, and multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilites with lockable single-occupant stalls. However, aside from its benefits, this idea has a cost issue included as well.

While these options are available, the desired solution would be to follow through with legislative protections for transgender people to use the bathroom of their preferred gender, as well as pass the Equality Act. This would allow for the LGBTQ+ community to have protection under the federal civil rights, and prevent discrimination based on gender identity. 

With these adjustments that can be made to help the LGBTQ+ community, spreading awareness could also promote better equality for transgender people on the issue as well. For example, the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition is a transgender-led organization that provides hormone shots; supplying to transgender and gender non-conforming people who need assistance injecting hormones—or simply don’t want to do these procedures alone. Another organization, Refuge, seeks to provide safe restrooms for transgender and gender non-conforming people to use. The website helps to find safe bathrooms nearby for these individuals, and accepts submissions to locate additional gender-neutral or all-gender bathroom areas. If there were more groups like these that could be used for building gender-neutral bathrooms, or advocating for legislative protection for transgender people, then spreading the word on how these solutions are needed would not be as hard to come by. Instead of transgender individuals feeling seperated from the public community, there would be a platform for them to speak their minds on ways to solve the bathroom issue. Many transgender individuals are ready for this change, and, by implementing some of these causes, awareness can be raised on how this debate needs to be settled. 

Nonetheless, transgender bathroom usage is a topic that continues to stir controversy in current American affairs. By understanding the changes that have occurred throughout the past decade for transgender people, we are better capable of addressing ways to help the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to bathroom usage. That is why solutions for these issues should not be cast aside, and why individuals must continue to stand for the rights every human deserves to have. 

By: Hannah Walker

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