Unisex bathrooms aren’t the answer

One of the popular responses to the outcry over HB2 has been to suggest that unisex or single bathrooms are the “answer” or a “middle road” (or “common sense”) to avoid conflict over transgender folks using the bathroom that best fits their gender identity. Really, it’s a dodge that doesn’t solve anything socially, and is logistically and fiscally unrealistic.

First, I would love it if all public spaces had private, single-person bathrooms. Not because I’m in any way uncomfortable with transgender folks — but because I’ve never really loved public bathrooms to begin with. Who wouldn’t prefer to be alone when using the bathroom? (And don’t even get me started on urinals…) 

But that’s not the reality we have today. Retrofitting the facilities in businesses, schools, and other public spaces would be extremely expensive. Folks who compare ADA compliance to providing bathrooms for transgender folks are ignoring the fact that ADA compliance was about physically allowing people to use facilities, not about anyone’s “discomfort” over sharing a bathroom with someone who needs additional assistance.

Your “discomfort” is your problem

More importantly, giving in to the pressure to segregate transgender folks or force them to use facilities that are not suited to their gender identity holds us back from full acceptance of transgender people.

All of the “think of the children” and “we’ve got to protect our women” arguments are bunk. As many other folks have pointed out, women are far more at risk from heterosexual males that present and act as men.

The drummed-up scenario of sexual predators dressing up as women to stalk women in restrooms rings false for several reasons:

  • Transgender women are basically being labeled sexual predators without any supporting evidence — and, in fact, plenty of supporting evidence to suggest that transgender women are more at risk of being assaulted if forced to use a men’s room.
  • Sexual predators aren’t going to be stopped by a law that says they have to use the “right” bathroom any more than they’re currently being stopped by all of the existing laws against sexual assault now.
  • As has already happened, people trying to guess a person’s sex has led to false positives — that is, identifying someone born female as a transgender woman and attempting to have her arrested for using the “wrong bathroom.”
  • If everyone in the bathroom is behaving appropriately, there should be no issue. If they are not, then *that* is the issue, and the sex/gender of the person doesn’t really figure into it.

If you are still “uncomfortable” sharing a bathroom with someone who is transgender and using the facilities appropriate to their gender identity, then you are the one with a problem. That should not impact their life at all.

This is no different than people who wanted separate facilities for black folks, and in the long run I’m confident that transgender folks’ rights will prevail. Why is it so urgent, then, that we overturn HB2 and move forward on this now?

Why this needs to happen now

Some folks want to slow this down, and give people time to adjust to the idea of equal rights and acceptance for transgender people. Social change has, historically, been a slow process. Why can’t we just slow down a bit and assume that transgender acceptance will just happen just like other equal rights movements?

Because we’re talking about people’s lives, and asking for transgender folks to bear the brunt while some members of society get their heads straight is profoundly unfair and wrong.

Because society is already particularly hard on transgender people. Their suicide rate is much higher than average. They are sexually assaulted at a higher rate than anyone else. It’s harder for transgender folks to find jobs, and generally just to be accepted for who they are.

Put yourself in the shoes of a transgender man or woman, being told that they have to use the wrong facilities because other people are “uncomfortable” with their presence. Worse, imagine hearing the people who try to paint transgender people as sexual predators — and then to hear them being taken seriously!

Repealing HB2 won’t fix this overnight, but letting it stand is just wrong.

We should be strongly against HB2 and other laws that enable or cause discriminatory situations against transgender people. Segregating bathrooms just perpetuates the idea that a transgendered man or woman is less than anyone else. That it’s OK to be “uncomfortable” with another human being who has done nothing wrong but express the identity that they are comfortable with. It isn’t OK, and we shouldn’t be making laws that support it or defend ignorance.


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