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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Head to Head Column: Are bathroom bills beneficial or unnecessary?

Head to Head Column: Are bathroom bills beneficial or unnecessary?

Columnists Jacob Winkleman and Rhiannon Bauer go head to head discussing national bills meant to protect against discrimination in bathrooms based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Bathroom bills try to address problems that don’t even exis— Jacob Winkelman

Since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, conservative states across the U.S. have fought back with legislation aimed at restricting other rights of LGBTQ individuals, specifically those in the transgender community. 

Most of these new bills, which typically give private businesses the capacity to discriminate against LGBTQ folks, have masqueraded as so-called religious freedom laws to evade tangible repercussions.

North Carolina, for example, recently passed House Bill 2, which prohibits cities from enacting nondiscrimination ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity. The new law, officially titled the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, was specifically passed to rebuke Charlotte, North Carolina’s comprehensive nondiscrimination clause, and create a statewide system based on biological sex as it appears on one’s birth certificate, with no mention of sexual orientation.

North Carolina isn’t alone.

Other states, including West Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi and Kentucky, are targeting LGBTQ protections through fear mongering about transgender people using bath rooms.

Voters decided to nullify a nondiscrimination policy in Houston last year because conservative activists turned the discussion into an argument about men using women’s restrooms.

North Carolina State Sen. Phil Berger, a Republican, also gave voice to this misleading and harmful line of thinking.

“Charlotte City Council’s decision to allow men to share public bathrooms with little girls and women has clearly raised a lot of concern across the state,” Berger said.

This tactic of linking the rights of transgender people, specifically transgender women, to sexual predators not only erases the identity of transgender people, but maliciously preys upon them using fear by suggesting that allowing transgender people to use bathrooms will lead to an increase in sexual assaults.

Although this rationale seems reasonable, or at least understandable—after all, no one is in favor of hurting women and children—it is a logic that is inaccurate and harmful to the LGBTQ community.

There is not a single incident in the U.S. of a transgender person sexually or physically assaulting a cisgender person in a restroom, nor are there any confirmed cases of sexual predators using transgender protection laws as a means of committing sexual assault. A number of states and dozens of local governments already allow people to use whichever bathroom best fits their gender identity and, despite the promises of conservative lawmakers, not a single problem has occurred.

Additionally, sexual assault is still illegal. Allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify does not mean that sexual assault laws will be nullified. One in four college women and one in six men will experience sexual assault. Allowing transgender people to use the bathroom will not make those numbers increase.

One community that is likely to be harassed and abused in bathrooms, however, is the transgender community. Seventy percent of transgender people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted or harassed in the restroom, according to a study by Jody Herman of the Williams Institute.

The transgender community is one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable groups in the country. People who identify as transgender are more likely to live in poverty, attempt and commit suicide, and abuse drugs than most other people. LGBTQ people can be fired or denied housing because of their identity in 28 states.

Aside from the discriminatory aspects of these bathroom bills, these laws also present a wide range of enforcement dilemmas. The most obvious of these dilemmas concerns the logistical challenge of determining people’s so-called true gender.

Plenty of transgender people pass as cisgender without undergoing surgery or changing their birth certificates. As a result of these bathroom bills, a transgender man, for example, who has facial hair, a deep voice and dresses in a masculine way, will now be required to use the women’s restroom because he has not changed his birth certificate.

Instead of protecting children, this law makes it so that a seemingly masculine man may now have to use the women’s restroom, where he will be harassed, intimidated and potentially attacked.

What about people who don’t obviously present as either masculine or feminine? With bathroom bills in effect, they could potentially be attacked or arrested for using either bathroom because people are now able to report anyone who doesn’t appear to line up with the 21st century, American gender binary.

The most ridiculous and hypocritical aspect of these laws, however, is how they contradict everything the Republican Party supposedly stands for. The Republican mantra for decades has been about small government and fiscal responsibility. Overturning city nondiscrimination clauses, such as the one in Charlotte, is a complete usurpation of local rights. The cost of policing every public restroom would be a financial burden on state resources.

Instead of using police officers to fight crime and pursue justice, conservative states instead seem to believe we would be better served by using the police to inspect.

One of the most common solutions is to construct gender-neutral bathrooms for those who identify as transgender. But this so-called solution fails to solve any of the aforementioned problems.

First, who is going to pay for these new restrooms? Are conservatives going to force small businesses to pay for new bathrooms? Are taxpayers going to front the bill for a third restroom in every governmental building?

Second, this line of thinking is nothing more than a 21st-century rendition of the separate but equal argument. If transgender people are forced to use a different bathroom, why don’t we also make black or gay people, and every other historically oppressed groups of people also use separate bathrooms for the supposed safety of white, cisgender, Christian families?

Finally, constructing a different bathroom for transgender people still means citizens have the license to report and harass anyone using the traditional bathrooms who doesn’t fit their perceived conception of gender.

Cameron Arroyo, a junior studying retail and consumer science, shared their opinion on gender-neutral restrooms:

“While creating a third, gender-neutral bathroom may be a good thing, it is not enough, because we are still being told we cannot use the bathroom that we identify with because of how people will feel about having to share a restroom with us,” Arroyo said. “Additionally, people using this third bathroom may become the targets of harassment and violence just for using that restroom.”

We don’t need the government policing which bathroom people use. These laws create a problem that doesn’t exist and vilifies an already marginalized, harassed and abused community. We can’t allow the fear and ignorance of privileged people to continue harming the lives of oppressed people. 

Bathroom bills provide needed protection — Rhiannon Bauer

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of marriage equality, the public and political spotlights are beginning to shift toward the “T” in LGBTQ.

Attention to the transgender community has manifested in the so-called bathroom bills proposed in various states. Perhaps the most prominent example would be North Carolina’s House Bill 2.

The bill, which was passed in less than 12 hours, prevents protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill specifically restricts access to public restrooms and facilities based on biological sex. HB2 is viewed as an attack against the LGBTQ community for that reason.

The bill was actually created with the public’s best interest in mind, with the intention of maintaining safety in private areas.

Before I continue, I want it to be clear that I do not intend to portray transgender individuals as predators.

The implication that members of the transgender community would sexually harass others as a result of being able to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify is unfounded and absurd. I have no fear of a transgender woman using the women’s restroom.

I do, however, have a fear of cisgender sex offenders looking for any excuse they can find to make victims of innocent people.

By opening up restrooms to members of either biological sex to be more inclusive of the transgender community, it would be easy for a cisgender sex offender or nonregistered predator to claim a transgender identity to gain access to potential victims in private places such as restrooms.

It’s already happened.

Two years ago in Toronto, a sexual predator named Christopher Hambrook was jailed after falsely identifying himself as a transgender woman to be allowed into women’s shelters. Hambrook had a long history of sexual assault. This incident is only the latest manifestation of Hambrook’s sexual assault history.

It’s possible that situations like the one in Toronto could spring up all over the place especially if we in the U.S. separate our bathrooms by gender identity rather than biological sex. When it comes to something as heavy and sensitive as sexual assault, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Maybe, as a victim of sexual assault, I’m biased. But I can’t help but cringe at the possibility that the masculine-appearing person who just entered the bathroom after me is not a transgender individual, but a cisgender person who could assault me. A law that helps prevent this from happening would do good for the innocent people who could be victimized.

It’s a bad situation all the way around. One option leaves innocent people of all ages in danger and the other causes identity suppression and has the potential to worsen the discomfort and pain felt by the transgender community every day.

Gender dysphoria is something beyond what any cisgender person has ever felt. Not being comfortable in one’s own body and not being able to make a change must be terrible. We, as a society, should be doing what we can to validate a transgender person’s identity and make them feel respected.

There is, however, a trade off with the decisions we make. The safety of one group should not be sacrificed for the inclusion of another.

Perhaps a more plausible solution would be to incorporate more single-occupancy, gender-neutral restrooms where possible. This way, everyone stays safe and no one has to feel as though they’re being misidentified. Otherwise, someone’s going to be in danger or feel uncomfortable. Changing who’s allowed into which bathroom does not solve the problem adequately enough.

Follow Jacob Winkelman and Rhiannon Bauer on Twitter. 

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