Transphobia and the Private (In) Convenience: A Theory

April 9, 2016 in General

University of Oregon political scientist Alison Gash has advanced theories about why anti-transgender bathroom bills are currently finding some traction in US Christian Right political circles. According to Dr. Gash, dtudies show that transgender students can be harassed, sexually assaulted or subjected to other physical violence when they are required to use a gendered bathroom. One survey, commissioned by the Williams Institute, an LGBTI think tank at UCLA, found that 68 percent of participants were subjected to homophobic slurs while trying to use the bathroom. Nine percent confronted physical violence. Seventy percent of transgender individuals surveyed in Washington, D.C. experienced verbal or physical assaults or were otherwise threatened when attempting to use the bathroom of their choice. Some experienced more than one form of such transphobic harrassment or violence. Yet another survey found that 26 percent of transgender students in New York were denied access to their preferred bathrooms altogether. As a result, transgender students need to constantly weigh the trade-offs as they consider bathroom options.

To counter this, , the University of Pittsburgh, Arizona State University and the University of Maine, among several others, have established policies that would permit transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Progressive K-12 settings too are making similar accommodations. For instance, California’s School Success and Opportunity Act requires that all K-12 students be able to access bathrooms or locker rooms that are consistent with their own gender identity. The private sector is responding as well. Hours after North Carolina passed its bill, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and other high-profile organizations expressed their opposition. A Kroger grocery store in Georgia has gone one step beyond opposition and relabelled its bathrooms as gender-neutral.

However, anti-transgender “bathroom panic” appears to be the new focus of LGBT rights backlash. In the United States, Wisconsin is considering legislation that would impose significant burdens on schools attempting to support transgender bathroom safety. And in South Dakota, a bill that would have restricted transgender students’ use of restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific facilities was recently vetoed. Incidents of backlash have also arisen in elementary schools as well. One elementary school student in Stafford County, Virginia, was prohibited from using a bathroom associated with her gender identity after parents and politicians in the state spoke out against the student’s request. Federal intervention too has sent out mixed signals. On the one hand, the Department of Education issued a letter to an Illinois school district stating that denying a transgender student’s rights to access a bathroom consistent with their gender identity is a violation of Title IX. On the other hand, a US federal court rejected a transgender student’s claim that his equal rights were violated when his university rejected his request to use a locker room that matched his gender identity.

Anti-transgender activists say that they are concerned about the possibility of men using “women’s showers, locker rooms and bathrooms” or “sex offenders…follow[ing] women or young girls into the bathroom.” But these explanations are problematic. However, this new form of US Christian Right activism tends to target more than just bathrooms. In many cases, so-called “bathroom bills” create other obstacles for all LGBTQ individuals in a variety of different settings. In Houston, voters threw out an entire ordinance outlawing LGBTQ discrimination (an ordinance that is now standard in over 200 cities and counties) because it would provide bathroom choice to transgender individuals. Similarly, North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” (HB2) prohibits all municipalities from passing any ordinance that protects LGBTQ individuals from discrimination.

Suspiciously, this opposition exists even when transgender advocates invoke the needs of students with disabilities, those who may need “family bathrooms” and students who have survived sexual abuse and are more comfortable with single-stall facilities. Affected transgender students have to travel quite a distance to get to the nearest single-stall gender-neutral bathroom, or change in an “alternative” locker room (often a faculty bathroom or custodial closet). There could even be days when they go to class in their workout clothes or “hold it in.” Such options have clear drawbacks and health risks. Urinary tract infections, depression and even suicide could be among them. As a result, sometimes students see their best option as renting a house near campus so they can go home to use the bathroom.

Source: Alison Gash: “What’s the backlash against gender neutral bathrooms all about?” The Conversation: 04.04.2016: