Of all the inventive methods used to create fear toward People Who Aren’t Like Us, the specter of mixed-use bathrooms is, historically, one of the more common.
In the 1950s blacks were forbidden from using white bathrooms in much of the South.
In the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980s, antifeminist activist Phyllis Schlafly argued that a constitutional amendment granting women equal civil rights would lead to—horrors!—unisex bathrooms. You know, like the kind you have in your home, or that commonly exist on airplanes. The ERA lost, in part because of these silly scare tactics.
When Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated to the US Supreme Court, opponents argued that a woman serving on the high court was impossible—because there was no ladies’ restroom on the justices’ floor. Ms. O’Connor became Justice O’Connor and I can only assume a ladies’ bathroom somehow materialized for her.
Today’s civil rights battles for transgender Americans revolve around this old lavatory-based angst.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidance stipulating that transgender employees should have access to the restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.
The guide promotes LGBT equality and is the Obama Administration’s latest civil rights move, which includes, as of last month, the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms in the White House.
Yet not everyone is so forward thinking. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee cruelly mocked the struggles of transgender kids to use facilities appropriate to their gender identity: “I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee says. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’”
“Bathroom bills” are now a battleground for transgender rights in five states – Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, and Texas, which have introduced bills this year designed to bar the use of sex-segregated facilities, like bathrooms and locker rooms, unless they confirm to a person’s biological birth gender. Transgender people who violate the law can be hit with fines or jail time for using a facility that did not match the gender they were assigned at birth. And in California, signatures are being gathered for a ballot initiative that would reward citizens $4,000 if they can catch a person using government building facilities that don’t align with his or her “biological sex.”
These ridiculous, punitive bills show a deep disrespect for the struggles transgender people endure, and promote more fear-mongering and scapegoating of a group that already suffers high rates of suicide and even murder.
I have yet to see someone raise bathrooms in a civil rights debate and be on the right side of history.
Let our transgender friends and neighbors use the restrooms they are comfortable in. Or better still, make them all unisex, which is the case in many places in Europe, with individual stalls that open up to a common unisex hand washing area.
We should embrace our transgender friends and neighbors and show them the dignity and respect they deserve, rather than subject them to this sordid nonsense.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.