Discriminatory bills across the country would punish transgender people using public bathrooms

A series of bills and ordinances have been introduced before city councils and legislatures in several states which seek to bar transgender individuals from using the bathroom which correlates to their gender identity. Most recently, a bill passed the Kentucky Senate making it possible for cisgender (non-transgender) students at public schools to sue the school if they find a transgender student using a restroom in alignment with their gender identity. The success of the measure in Kentucky is frightening, as there are proposals in multiple places around the country awaiting votes.

A proposed law in Florida will criminalize entering a bathroom that does not correspond to an individual's sex designated at birth. In December, Miami-Dade County amended its nondiscrimination ordinance to be inclusive of gender identity. The proposed law would overrule the protection offered in Miami-Dade.

Similarly, Debbie Riddle, a State Representative from Texas, introduced two bills which will work in tandem to ban transgender people from using the correct bathroom. The first bill broadens laws regarding disorderly conduct to include incidents when a person "enters a public restroom that is designated by a sign for the members of the opposite sex of the actor." The other bill narrowly defines gender as that which is designated at birth or "established by the individual's chromosomes," which is rarely known to a person.

A vote which heads before the Charlotte, North Carolina city council seeks to more broadly discriminate against the LGBT community, with particular emphasis placed on issues surrounding bathrooms. The city council will vote on whether to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the existing nondiscrimination ordinance.

The bills in Texas and Florida would impose fines and possible jail time for transgender people found in violation. The threat of imprisonment is all too common in the transgender community. A 2011 study, released by the Nation Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in partnership with the National LGBTQ Task Force, found that 16% of all respondents reported facing incarceration at some point. Furthermore, transgender people live in poverty at rates more than double the average population; the costly fines may be, therefore, excessively detrimental to many transgender people.

Several hundred cities in the United States recognize sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, in citywide nondiscrimination ordinances. Although some of the bills will extend beyond issues relating to bathrooms and locker rooms, many latch onto these areas, using sensational and inaccurate information to justify the proposed discrimination against transgender people. Supporters of these bills argue that it is a matter of public safety to ensure that women and children are safe from violence and harassment, as Representative Riddle says. The evidence employed has been continually debunked by experts from various backgrounds.

Michael Silverman, the Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), said, "Bills like these target transgender people for harm by criminalizing the simple act of using a bathroom… Lawmakers who sponsor this kind of mean-spirited legislation purport to be looking out for public safety.  But in reality, they are creating unsafe conditions by putting transgender people at great risk for harassment and violence."

As GLAAD has noted before, it is often transgender and gender non-conforming people who face danger, harassment, and persecution in public restrooms. A study released by the Williams Institute at UCLA concluded that transgender people are at increased risk of discrimination and even physical ailments, due to the uncomfortable and dangerous situations presented by public bathrooms. An overwhelming 70% of respondents in the study experienced verbal and/or physical harassment or assault, and were even denied access to public bathrooms.

When covering these proposed bills and ordinances, it is important to look at the evidence put forth by experts, which confirms that allowing a transgender or gender non-conforming person to use the bathroom which aligns with their gender identity is not dangerous. It is, simply, the right thing to do.