In an alarming display of institutionalised discrimination, the South Dakota state senate recently passed a Bill requiring transgender schoolchildren to use locker rooms and toilets corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth. In other words, if Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard signs it into law, trans girls will be forced to use the boys’ toilets and vice versa, regardless of the impact on their physical safety or mental health, or of the bigotry it may foster in their classmates.
We teach our children how to treat each other. This Bill teaches them that trans people are liars and predators, and that discriminating against them is a moral obligation.
Similar legislation has been proposed in other states, including Texas, Arizona, Florida and Washington, but South Dakota is the first to actually pass such a retrograde, heartbreaking Bill. The supposed reasoning would be ludicrous if it wasn’t so dangerous: letting trans people choose which toilet they feel most comfortable using is not “safe” for the rest of us, anti-trans activists claim.
Trans people are trying to sneak into your toilets to look at your genitals. Cisgender (those whose gender identity corresponds to their assigned birth gender) men could pose as trans women in an elaborate long con to sneak into your toilets to look at your genitals. Everyone wants to look at your genitals! Going to the toilet is ruined!
Or, as Republican lawmaker David Omdahl put it, we need Bills like this to “preserve the innocence of our young people”.
Hey, here are a few ideas I have, just off the top of my head. How about intangible, moralistic, faithcentric concepts such as “innocence” not factoring into our public policy? How about people such as Omdahl, who is actively hostile towards trans people (he recently said: “I don’t even understand where our society is these days” and called transgender children “twisted”), forfeiting their right to enact legislation affecting trans lives? How about we listen to people when they tell us who they are? How about everyone just gets to go to the toilet?
This conversation has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with transphobia. We already have laws against sexual predation and harassment in public toilets.
And claims that letting trans people use the toilet is somehow a “safety” issue are founded on literally nothing, according to the United States’s National Centre for Transgender Equality. Last year, spokesperson Vincent Villano said he had “not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a nontransgender person in a public restroom. Those who claim otherwise have no evidence that this is true and use this notion to prey on the public’s stereotypes and fears about transgender people.”
Meanwhile, I know plenty of trans people who don’t feel safe using public toilets because they have experienced glares and harassment from people who buy into this rhetoric. On the Huffington Post last week, Brynn Tannehill argued that anti-trans toilet Bills aren’t just the indiscriminate flailing of frightened bigots – they are part of a co-ordinated effort by right-wing groups, in effect to eradicate trans people altogether.
The far-right Christian lobbyist organisation the Family Research Council (listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre monitoring group) announced a five-point plan last year, as Tannehill put it, to “legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition in”. Point three in the plan is: “Transgender people should not be legally allowed to use facilities in accordance with their gender identity.”
“Use one bathroom,” Tannehill wrote, envisioning a world in which the group’s plan succeeds, “and it’s a felony. Use the other, and you’re likely to be beaten, maybe to death. If you fight back against your attackers, you’ll go to a prison for people of the opposite gender that guarantees you will continue to be raped, beaten and denied medical care.”
If you are a trans person, or count trans people among your close friends and family, or follow trans activists on social media, then none of this is new to you. You already know that trans people are not predators: they are human beings with complex lives, they are fighting to live and thrive, they are frightened by Bills such as this and their wider implications – and sometimes they have to wee.
Unfortunately, thanks in no small part to influential bigots, a lot of cisgender people don’t personally know any transgender people. (Or, at least, they aren’t aware they know any.) Toilet Bills – and even just the conversations that swirl around them – actively encourage trans people to stay in the closet, stanching the kind of humanisation that’s necessary for progress.
I unreservedly support the right of trans people to use whichever toilet their gender identity dictates. It’s just a toilet, and it’s not just a toilet. – © Guardian News & Media 2016