Everyone comes from a different background, but one thing that unites us all is the need for safe bathroom facilities. For many transgender people, entering a gender-specific bathroom can be a source of stress and anxiety, because using the restroom can mean very real health and safety concerns. Harassment of trans people in and around gender-specific bathrooms can range from denial of use to police intervention to verbal threats and physical assault. In 2011, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Trans Equality released the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a first-of-its-kind report surveying over 6,000 transgender people in the United States. Over half of the participants reported experiencing harassment in public accommodations (bathrooms, restaurants, hotels, etc.) and 10% reported being physically attacked. Many trans people – especially trans women of color – face extreme levels of violence when simply using the restroom. Jalissa Griffin shares some of her story here.
Myths about safety
While it’s clear that trans people are frequently the targets of violence in public bathrooms and other gendered spaces, right wing groups have propagated myths to stir up fear and transphobia – frequently in the interest of defeating non-discrimination legislation or diverting attention away from other issues. The Transgender Law Center developed an excellent resource called “Peeing in Peace” to address issues around restrooms. They articulate the problem with the myths about trans people compromising the safety of women and children in bathrooms, “Because we live in a society in which both women and youth regularly face discrimination and oppression, however, it is important to take this question seriously. At the root of this question is the idea that bathrooms cannot be safe for women, children and transgender people. This idea is inaccurate and it puts women and children one side and transgender people on the other. When marginalized groups are pitted against each other like this, coalition building becomes difficult (if not impossible) and the political power of all the groups is weakened. And that is a shame because nothing about allowing people to use the bathroom that is appropriate for their gender identity or creating gender neutral bathrooms makes those bathrooms more unsafe for women and children.”
Attacks on trans communities
Attacks on trans communities and bathroom use have been frequent. Recently, Colorado 1st grader Coy Mathis was banned from using the bathroom at her school. Nearby Phoenix, AZ passed a non-discrimination law that protects people on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations, and in reaction to this legislation opponents of equality launched an attack on Arizona’s trans community in the form of Senate Bill 1432. The bill would require people to use public restrooms, dressing rooms or locker rooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificate or face six months in jail. This bill would especially impact trans immigrants who face heightened barriers to documentation – read more about the important connections between trans rights and immigrant rights here.
In addition to policies that protect trans people in public accommodations, gender-neutral restrooms can be a safe alternative for trans people and others who may want or need this space. Here in Oregon, Portland State University historically established multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms and Grant High School became one of the first public high schools in the country to install a gender-neutral restroom.
How to be an ally
Trans people also need our allies to create safe space spaces. If you are a cisgender ally, here are a few things you can do to create safer spaces:
- Assume that everyone knows which bathroom they are in. Do not ask people if they are in the right place, do not stare, and do not create a hostile environment.
- Be aware of places trans people may not be able to go (pun intended). Be understanding if a trans person doesn’t feel safe using a gendered bathroom or locker room.
- Consider how you can advocate for gender-neutral restrooms in your workplace, school, place of worship, etc. Encourage businesses you frequent to install gender-neutral restrooms or convert their existing restrooms.
- Interrupt transphobia in the restroom. If you witness someone being harassed in a bathroom, intervene and make it clear that everyone is there to pee in peace.
- Talk to your friends and family about myths surrounding trans people and bathroom use. Because of the myths right wing groups have created about bathroom use, many people are misinformed about this issue.
For more information about this topic, check out the Sylvia Rivera Law Project’s “Toilet Training.”
Category: News: Transgender Justice