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A battle in a new frontier; transgender rights battle extends into the bathroom

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By Jannah Kalai
[email protected]

Drawing recent national attention in North Carolina is the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or House Bill 2, which established a statewide policy making bathroom access a trait of biological sex at birth and bans individuals from using public bathrooms according to their gender identity. When House Bill 2 reached the end of its race through the legislature in a single-day session and was signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23, the immediate reaction was pure outrage. It has, however, also sparked a national conversation over what the next step for legislation should be on this topic, and further protection for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Those in support of the bill have made many arguments about “protection of the opposite sex in restrooms” and that creating a law that forces individuals to enter bathrooms according to biological sex is “common sense.”

It is crucial when analyzing a population such as the transgender demographic to comprehend the state of the transgender community; understanding their battle for representation in legislation begins far before even the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling on June 26, 2015. Every gender identity must be heard—and as members of the general public, it is in our moral obligation as humans to recognize that minority demographics are often seen as less in the eyes of political legislation, and it is our job to bring attention to the issue for the betterment of all.

An early 2015 Washington Post study highlighted the fact that even today, we are unsure about the true size of the transgender community. Even censuses as nationally recognized as the U.S. Census only have two options: male and female. According to the Williams Institute at the University of California—Los Angeles, an estimated 700,000 adults in the United States are transgender. Fred Ettner, a physician in Evanston, Ill., who works with people going through transition, estimated that only about 25 percent to 30 percent of transgender people have had any kind of gender-reassignment surgery.  The reality of this issue is that we are dictating the laws of a community we statistically know little about—and in no way does this give leeway for politicians to make choices on their behalf without full representation. 

A notion in this argument is the portrayal of transgender individuals as threats, and legislation has questioned their honesty when entering bathrooms according to their gender identity. But prejudice is blind to obstacles. Prejudice is prejudice—discrimination has occurred for years in bathrooms to all genders and this law will do nothing but increase crimes against individuals. For example, the Human Rights campaign reported, “At least one in five transgender people surveyed report experiencing employment discrimination. In six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006, 20 to 57 percent of transgender respondents said they experienced employment discrimination, including being fired, denied a promotion or harassed. Though even more difficult to measure, transgender people also face incredible barriers as job applicants.”

The Washington Post reported even more startling statistics of the transgender community and their day-to-day battle with discrimination: “41 percent of transgender people surveyed in Injustice at Every Turn said they had attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population. Risk increased for those who reported bullying, sexual assault and job loss.” An analysis in 2015 by the Williams Institute found 78 percent of transgender respondents who had endured physical or sexual violence at school had attempted suicide.

But what are we now fighting to put in place? The solution is simple. In terms of our move towards gender identity-friendly public services, a simple plan of single-occupancy gender-neutral (unisex) facilities and the use of multiple-occupant, gender-neutral restroom facilities with lockable single occupant stalls. This is a system the United States should gladly mirror from European countries such as Ireland, in which unisex bathrooms can be found in various public destinations.

An argument made by those in support of the bill is that the transition to change to new types of public restrooms will cost the taxpayer thousands of dollars, and that reinforcing the traditional roles saves time, money and is just “common sense.” But for those in the transgender community, their transitions have been met with nothing but hostility from the federal government. If we are not in a place to support the reformation of public bathrooms, then the next plan of action should ensure that the human rights of transgender individuals are strengthened and protected everywhere, from the workplace to public and private schools. It is time that we prioritize their voice in government legislation and ensure that their choice in using one of life’s most standard and mundane of facilities is not dictated by labels they have been fighting all their life to change.

“The Housewife Chronicles” – Issue #7

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A battle in a new frontier; transgender rights battle extends into the bathroom