Gender Identity and Politics: A Quick Explainer of the North Carolina Bathroom BillBy Anulekha Venkatram
Apr. 29 2016, Published 3:30 a.m. ET
Should transgender Americans be allowed to use the restrooms that match their gender identity? Is it discrimination when they’re forced to use bathrooms that match the gender they are assigned to at birth?
These questions are increasingly getting attention since North Carolina made headlines by passing a controversial bill (HB2) that bans transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
Here’s a break down about what this means and why people are upset:
Does HB2 affect the rights of people who aren’t transgender? Yes. The law limits the ability of North Carolina employees to file claims for employment discrimination on the basis of race, age, color, sex and national origin.
What does transgender mean? Transgender is used to describe people whose gender identity is different from the one marked on their birth certificate. While some transgender people take steps to match their bodies with their gender identity, some do not.
What do we mean by “gender identity?” Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation. Gender identity concerns with a person’s inner sense of being male, female, a mixture, or neither. We typically express our gender identity through our hairstyles, the clothes we wear, our mannerisms, etc.
What are the assumptions being made by lawmakers that have passed or are considering to pass similar bills? Lawmakers believe that sex offenders or peeping toms could potentially “exploit” the system by identifying as a different gender in order to go into bathrooms and prey on women and children.
Are they right? According to a Media Matters report, experts (including law enforcement, human rights workers, sexual assault organizations) from 12 states with transgender protection laws have thoroughly refuted the idea that transgender non-discrimination laws give sexual predators access to female bathrooms. In an interview with Huffington Post, Terri Poore, policy director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, acknowledges that “the threat of sexual assault is real and pervasive — we just don’t think discriminating against transgender people does anything to keep anyone safe.”
This debate has even made it to the Republican presidential race: while Donald Trump has stated that he has no problem with people using the bathroom they are most comfortable with, Ted Cruz finds the idea “simply crazy.”
The troubling part of the arguments for legislation such as HB2 is that they are using women as an excuse to legally discriminate against a specific group of people, while also stoking public fear about transgender people as sexual deviants. And this is following a clear historical trend of using “women’s safety” as a tactic to criminalize marginalized groups.
Consider this: if transgender people are prohibited from using public bathrooms that correlate with their gender identity, what facilities should they use?
An obvious solution would be creating gender neutral, or unisex, bathrooms. But even that is getting some heat. Conservative lawmaker, Republican John Becker, states that he is considering a bill that would ban gender neutral bathrooms in the state of Ohio. He explained it this way, “why isn’t this real simple? If you have male genitalia, you go in the men’s bathroom. If you have women’s genitalia, you go in the women’s bathroom.”
Becker’s argument shows a complete ignorance of the different people that would benefit from a gender neutral bathroom, including adults with aging/disabled family members, parents with children of the opposite sex, people in the LGBTQ community, etc.
If the key issue here is safety in public restrooms, then let’s work together to find a solution that addresses it, instead of passing bills that criminalize a group that identifies with a different gender.