A recent law passed in North Carolina has been dubbed “the bathroom bill” because its most talked about feature deals with the right of transgender individuals to use the public bathroom of their choice. The law explicitly states that individuals must use the bathroom corresponding to the gender they were identified as at birth. People who identify as transgender are possibly the only segment of the population that is more discriminated against than gays. So the law and its implications are important.
Supporters of the law argue that sexual predators will use the accommodation to prey upon women and girls in public restrooms. But there have been no instances of this being a problem in the numerous cities and states which have LGBT anti-discrimination laws in place that allow people to use the restroom which matches their gender identification. (Yahoo News, April 1, 2016; media matters.org, March 20, 2014)
Still, if people are uncomfortable sharing a public bathroom with transgender individuals, I have the perfect solution: gender neutral restrooms. Some have already proposed this remedy, but the difference is that I am not advocating that transgender people be required to use them. Instead, public places should have at least one gender neutral restroom for anyone who is uncomfortable using the public restroom for any reason. This may include those women who are scared of being preyed upon. It may include a transgender woman or man who doesn’t feel safe in the public restroom. There can be myriad reasons for people to want a more private bathroom, and gender neutral ones accommodate those reasons without discriminating against anyone.
For me, the real damage of North Carolina’s HB2 is that it bars more progressive cities in the state from providing protections for their citizens in this area and many others, such as employment and minimum wage, both of which fall under the state’s anti -discrimination law. Furthermore, it denies all workers the right to sue employers under the state’s anti-discrimination law. So this law does not only affect transgender people, but anyone who faces racial, religious, or sex discrimination. University of North Carolina law professor Erika Wilson calls the bathroom provisions of HB2 a “Trojan Horse” that allowed the legislature to codify a much more far-reaching restriction on civil rights. (Mother Jones, April 5, 2016)
I hope in years to come we will be as incredulous about this bathroom issue as we are about separate restrooms and drinking fountains for blacks and whites. Meanwhile, we all need to unite with the LGBT community in fighting these insidious assaults on our civl rights. We may come to find ourselves at the losing end and wish we had been more insistent on protecting these marginalized groups. By then it will be too late.