Since the Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality on June 25, 2015, LGBT folks and our issues have had an increased presence in the media. Recently, North Carolina passed a “Bathroom Bill” that requires all individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth regardless of their gender identity or gender expression. Supporters of the bill state the bill will ensure the safety of women and children in restrooms, completely overlooking the reality that trans identified individuals and folks who are perceived to be in the wrong restroom are at higher risk of both verbal and physical assault. The bill also overlooks the reality that not all trans people have access to the resources to change identity documents to reflect who they are. For example, here in Ohio one cannot change one’s birth certificate and changing identification such as a driver’s license can be costly financially and emotionally.
The reactions to the North Carolina legislation are both encouraging and frightening. On one hand, several individuals and groups have come out in opposition to the bill from celebrities who have canceled concert tours to campaigns such as #illgowithyou for allies who are willing to accompany trans folks to the bathroom to help ensure their safety. On the other hand, states such as Ohio, Mississippi, and Florida have discussed (and/or have passed) similar legislation. Currently, the Ohio bill is not expected to go very far in our state legislature and Governor John Kasich has stated that he would not sign such a bill into law—however, the fact that such a bill was conceived, regardless of its passing or not, is scary and a reflection that we still have a ways to go before “all are equal” truly mean “all are equal.”
Moving past all of the political rhetoric and jargon, at the end of the day all we as trans people want is to safely and comfortably use the bathroom—to perform a basic biological function in peace. Part of this discussion has led to conversations around the need for more single occupancy restrooms (which benefit not only trans people but also many other groups) as well as questions on how a bathroom law would be enforced (will folks have to start carrying a copy of their birth certificate or would random stall checks be implemented?). Though I am mindful of the need to be careful with generalizations, my hunch is that the majority of folks who use public restrooms do so in order to pee, poop, wash their face, change their clothes, seek a quiet space during/after a hectic staff meeting—expecting to do so without fear of being harassed or for some nefarious plot.
As with all of the equality milestones we have experienced, the current conversation around restrooms is an indication of the work that has to be done and has yet to be done. Even if bathroom bills are overturned or not passed, the current realities of states like North Carolina, Mississippi, Indiana, Arkansas, and Florida, do not encourage or spark a desire to visit those states out of fear—a reflection that policy changes do not always ripple onto everyday life or change how LGBT people are treated in society.
I do not want to seem ungrateful for the support the trans community has received these last few weeks. Attorney General Loretta Lynch proclaimed a powerful statement of solidarity when she said: “Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself…we see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward…please know that history in on your side.” These words are moving and hope-filled to all who have been marginalized, however, my concern is where were these words last year when over 20 trans women, the majority trans women of color, were murdered in the US (and these are just the cases that received media attention)? Where were these words when trans people are fired from their jobs for simply being who they are? I am grateful for the solidarity but part of me feels that these words were needed much sooner rather than later.
One last thought to share is that current conversations around bathrooms need to be expanded beyond binary understanding of gender. Much of the current rhetoric on all sides of the debate focus on trans men and trans women, often at the expense of genderqueer, agender, gender-nonconforming, gender expansive, gender-nonbinary, and folks who don’t pass or who don’t want to pass. In our efforts to counter harmful rhetoric and practices, we must remember that trans identified individuals represent a spectrum of identities and expressions of identities.
As the bathroom conversation continues to evolve, we must remember that accomplishments are steps on the journey for the full equality and celebration of LGBTQIA+ communities—the struggle is real and filled with both challenges and resiliencies. Peequality for all!
delfin bautista is the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University. delfin is a native of Miami, FL and of Cuban and Salvadoran heritage. they identify as trans*, specifically as Two-Spirit or genderqueer. they are a social worker and queer feminist theologian passionate about engaging the intersections of religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, and social justice–creating spaces were individuals and communities are both safe and challenged to wrestle through questions around identity and expression. delfin has a Master in Divinity as well as a Master of Social Work.