Most people would like to pretend public bathrooms and their questionable sanitation simply do not exist, but due to recent legislative conflicts, the existence of public bathrooms has been thrust into harsh examination. The reason for this sudden focus is a new North Carolina legislation which bans transgender people from using the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned gender. This created a storm of polarized opinions around the subject, leading to commentary and protests from both sides.
In this paper, I will argue that anti-transgender bathroom bills should be abolished because they are harmful to all people involved and because the reasons for these anti-transgender policies implementation in the first place are illegitimate. Throughout the following pages, I will give background information about anti-transgender bathroom bills, explain why these policies are harmful to everyone involved, and refute claims in their favor. It should be noted that because my argument’s claim is directly against bathroom bills and those pushing for their implementation, much of the evidence for my claim will be contained in rebuttal against such policies.
In March of 2016, North Carolina signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, creating a flood of activism from both political sides. This law eliminated anti-discrimination policies for LGBT+ people in North Carolina and ruled that transgender people would have to use the restroom that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificate rather than the gender with which they identified. For many, this legislation was seen as a step backwards for LGBT+ equality, sprouting debates and protests.
People who support the bill and believe in traditionally gender separated bathrooms have boycotted Target, a store that allows transgender people to use whichever bathroom aligns with their gender identity. (Wong 2016) Activists on this side have also created a website collaging pictures of transgender women wearing makeup with the headline “Would you let these ‘women’ in the bathroom with your daughter?” (FAQ No Bathroom Bill) On the opposite side of the debate, artists who are against the North Carolina legislation have cancelled concerts. This includes Cirque du Soleil, Duran Duran, and Maroon 5, among numerous others who abandoned shows in North Carolina following the news of the new law. (Glum 2016)
The extreme polarization of this debate calls for open discourse and argumentation that overcomes the initial knee-jerk emotional reaction elicited by these topics. There are three main propositions popularized amongst debaters of this legislation. First, there are those in favor of bathroom bills who argue they should stay in place. Secondly, some suggest that a third bathroom option should be given to transgender people that is neither “male” nor “female”. Finally, many argue against the bills entirely, calling for the abolition of anti-transgender laws. The proposition I will be arguing in favor of is the third.
There is a a great deal of evidence, which I am about to cover, that demonstrates bathroom bills are ineffective at best and harmful at worst. They negatively affect not only transgender people but cisgender people too. Therefore, because bathroom bills and anti-transgender policies in general are harmful to everyone involved, such legislation should be abolished.
Firstly, and most obviously, transgender bathroom bills are harmful to transgender people. Laws that invalidate transgender identity and LGBT+ equality in general represent huge steps backwards in human rights. A Washington, DC-based survey, conducted with the DC Trans Coalition, researched the stress put on minorities as a result of gendered bathrooms. They found that “70 percent of survey respondents report experiencing verbal harassment, assault, and being denied access to public restrooms.” This negatively impacts minority’s work, education, and personal lives. (Herman 2013) And a transgender suicide hotline reported that the month after the HB2 Law (North Carolina Bathroom Bill) was passed, they received double the calls as compared to the month before. (Bryne 2016)
Secondly, bathroom bills can negatively affect cisgender people. In April, the LA Times published a story explaining that legislation like North Carolina’s bathroom bill allows for discrimination on moral convictions such as homosexuality and abstinence, allowing people to refuse business if customers are single mothers or gay. (Lang 2016) This demonstrates that bathroom bills affect everyone involved — transgender or otherwise.
Because my argument’s claim is against a policy and movement that is already in place, this argument’s support is going to inherently include a rebuttal used as primary evidence. In the next section of this paper, I will address the illegitimacy of the claims that allowed for bathroom bills implementation in the first place.
Perhaps the most prevalent defense and reasoning behind the bill is the claim that allowing transgender people to use the restroom will endanger women and children. (Triller, Rape Survivor Speaks Out About Transgender Bathrooms) The most outspoken groups against the bill often use fear as incentive to implement discriminatory legislation, saying that transgender equality will result in men pretending to be women in order using the female restroom to assault attack girls and women. This predator narrative is not only transphobic, but untrue. A statement released by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women on April 21, 2016, states that “Over 200 municipalities and 18 states have nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people’s access to facilities consistent with the gender they live every day…. None of those jurisdictions have seen a rise in sexual violence or other public safety issues due to nondiscrimination laws.” (National Consensus Statement of Anti-Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Organizations in Support of Full and Equal Access for the Transgender Community 2016) This coalition of over 200 organizations that work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors firmly agree that arguments in favor of discriminatory bathroom bills like those in North Carolina are flawed and represent a deep misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender. Additionally, when the news site Mic sought statistics to find evidence of connections between anti-discriminatory bathrooms and violence, they found nothing. There was no factual connection to back up claims of transgender people using the bathrooms they feel comfortable in and bathroom assaults. (Bianco 2016)
Many organizations claim that gender is biological and that transgender people are scamming, confused, or lying. (FAQ No Bathroom Bill) This position has already been determined untrue by many organizations, including the American Psychological Association, which explains that sex is assigned at birth by chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and anatomy. In contrast, gender is social and personal, and much more to do with biology of the brain rather than genitalia. Transgender simply means that a person’s gender is not aligned with their birth-assigned sex. (Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression 2016) As Dr. Henderson, professor of physiology and neurobiology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, explains in a piece written for OZY, to be transgender is not a choice, but a matter of biological brain differences. (Henderson 2016)
ABC News reports that there is little to no game-plan with how lawmakers will enforce bathroom bills like those in North Carolina — after all, having people bring their birth certificates into bathrooms seems a little far-fetched. They also cite transgender activist Chase Strangio, saying, “Most everyone has shared a bathroom with a trans person and nothing has happened. It is a mundane experience of how it is whenever going to the bathroom.” (Borello 2016)
With this evidence it is clear that transgender bathroom separation is unnecessary and detrimental. Some people propose that a third bathroom option should be created in order for all transgender people to have their own space separate from traditional gender bathrooms, but this is misaligned with the very nature of what it means to be transgender — being transgender does not mean a person is in a separate group to others, but rather simply on a different part of the gender spectrum than their external biological sex would indicate.
Therefore, transgender bathroom bills should be abolished. They are detrimental and lack critical scientific backing. As Dr. Henderson said, “Suicide rates indicates that lifetime prevalence of attempted suicide in transgender individuals is ~40 percent as opposed to ~4 percent in the overall population…and those that believe that real sexual predators will be dissuaded by a sign on a bathroom door are truly lost.” (Henderson 2016) Transgender people do not choose to be transgender. Rather, it is lawmakers and allies who have the choice to make transgender lives slightly easier by allowing them to use whichever public facilities allow them to feel safe.
written for Analysis of Argument, Summer 2016
This unisex bathroom debate makes no sense to me pic.twitter.com/N97poiSZ5w
— CapriKirk (@ILLCapitano94) April 25, 2016
Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression. (2016). Retrieved July 23, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx
Bianco, M. (2016, April 2). Statistics Show Exactly How Many Times Trans People Have Attacked You in Bathrooms. Mic. Retrieved July 23, 2016, from https://mic.com/articles/114066/statistics-show-exactly-how-many-times-trans-people-have-attacked-you-in-bathrooms#.XKsnVVzuk
Borello, S. (2016, April 22). Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Organizations Debunk ‘Bathroom Predator Myth’ ABC News. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://abcnews.go.com/US/sexual-assault-domestic-violence-organizations-debunk-bathroom-predator/story?id=38604019
Bryne, K. (2016, April 26). Transgender suicide hotline reports call increase after HB2. WNCT. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://wnct.com/2016/04/26/transgender-suicide-hotline-reports-call-increase-after-hb2/
Frequently Asked Questions – No Bathroom Bill. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2016, from http://nobathroombill.com/frequently-asked-questions/
Glum, J. (2016, April 20). The HB 2, Anti-LGBT Laws Effect: List Of Concerts, Events Canceled In North Carolina And Mississippi. International Business Times. Retrieved June 21, 2016, from http://www.ibtimes.com/hb-2-anti-lgbt-laws-effect-list-concerts-events-canceled-north-carolina-mississippi-2356695
Herman, J. (2016, June 13). Gendered Restrooms and Minority Stress: The Public Regulation of Gender and its Impact on Transgender People’s Lives. Journal of Public Management and Social Policy. Retrieved from http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/transgender-issues/herman-jpmss-june-201
Henderson, L., Dr. (2016, May 24). Check the Science: Being Trans is Not a Choice. OZY. Retrieved July 23, 2016, from http://www.ozy.com/pov/check-the-science-being-trans-is-not-a-choice/69726
Lang, N. (2016, April 29). Think ‘bathroom bills’ and other anti-LGBT legislation don’t impact you? Think again. LA Times. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-bathroom-bill-hb1523–20160429-snap-story.html
National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. (2016, April 21). National Consensus Statement of Anti-Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Organizations in Support of Full and Equal Access for the Transgender Community Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://endsexualviolence.org/files/NTFNationalConsensusStmtTransAccessWithSignatories.pdf
Triller, K. (2015, November 23). A Rape Survivor Speaks Out About Transgender Bathrooms [Web log post]. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/23/a-rape-survivor-speaks-out-about-transgender-bathrooms/
Wong, C. (2016, April 23). ‘Family’ Group Vows ‘Next Level’ Target Protest With Outrageous Anti-Trans Video. Huffington Post. Retrieved July 21, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dont-target-our-daughters_us_57431df5e4b00e09e89f8b6d