Editor's Note: Transgender people are disproportionately affected by sexual violence. North Carolina's House Bill 2 blatantly defied the civil rights of transgender people and perpetuated harmful stereotypes. Since then, the Obama Administration released a Dear Colleague Letter clarifying that under Title IX a school must not treat transgender students differently than they would cisgender students of the same gender identity. The University of North Carolina School System announced last week, that they would not enforce the harmful bill.
Thank you to guest blogger Julia Haskins for covering this important topic:
Since the passage of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB 2) in North Carolina, legislators, pundits and activists crusading against transgender rights have leveraged a vulnerable space to spread harmful myths about the transgender community.
Under HB 2, transgender people in North Carolina must use the public restroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth unless they have changed their birth certificate. If they use the restroom matching their gender identity, they could face arrest. (It’s still unclear how this rule would actually be enforced, as this Mother Jones article demonstrates.)
The so-called “Bathroom Law” goes much deeper than restroom policing. Denounced by the ACLU of North Carolina as the “most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the country,” HB 2 envelops a host of unjust policies. Among other provisions, HB 2 strips North Carolina residents of the right to bring claims of workplace discrimination to state court and overturns local ordinances that prohibit LGBT discrimination.
The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, arguing that HB 2 violates provisions of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX.
HB 2’s implications extend far beyond bathroom walls. What makes the law especially egregious is its anti-trans sentiment disguised as an effort to protect cisgender women. There’s no doubt about the target here: HB 2 characterizes transgender and gender non-binary people as predatory figures who attack cisgender women.
“[Transgender women are] an easy outlet for this thwarted anger and anxiety because of our relative lack of legal protections and our marginal political, social, and economic status,” Anastasia Walker, an essayist, poet and scholar writes in a Huffington Post piece. “In the current legal and cultural climate, policing our bodily functions is a practicable measure for redressing the wrong that is, ultimately, us.”
Last year, a commercial urging voters to oppose the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) played upon the same fear tactics driving HB 2. The black-and-white TV spot warns of a world in which men will lie about their gender to prey on women in restrooms should the ordinance pass. It ends with a man cornering a young girl in a bathroom stall.
Not only does this commercial dehumanize and misrepresent transgender women, but the scenario it portrays couldn’t be further from the truth. The fear-mongering used to defeat HERO and pass HB 2 ultimately comes at the expense of transgender people who face real dangers every time they enter public bathrooms. It ignores the reality that transgender people face some of the highest rates of sexual assault of any group.
Jody Herman, a public policy scholar at the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, conducted a survey of 93 transgender and gender non-conforming people in Washington, D.C. in 2008 and 2009. According to the survey, “About 70 percent of the sample reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms and even experiencing some forms of physical assault,” Herman told NPR.
In March, a transgender woman was raped at the historic Stonewall Inn while using a single-occupancy stall. With 64% of transgender people having experiencing sexual assault at some point in their lives, safe public accommodations become all the more critical.
On the flip side, most cisgender people don’t give much thought to which restroom they use. They can use the restroom without fear or shame. There are no concerns about being bullied or questioned. It is an uneventful experience, as it should be.
And while transgender people navigate threats to their safety every day, HB 2’s restroom provision legitimizes transphobia by highlighting a problem that doesn’t exist. Contrary to fears of cisgender men invading women’s restrooms, a PolitiFact investigation found no “instances of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States” in cities that allow people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities. Such policies don’t open the door to sexual predators. Rather, they affirm that we all share a basic human need to use the restroom.
Transgender activist Sarah McBride recently demonstrated the common denominator of the public bathroom with a hugely popular Instagram post. Standing in a women’s restroom in North Carolina, McBride calls for respect for all restroom-goers:
“I'm just a person. We are all just people. Trying to pee in peace. Trying to live our lives as fully and authentically as possible. Barring me from this restroom doesn't help anyone. And allowing me to continue to use this bathroom - just without fear of discrimination and harassment - doesn't hurt anyone.”
Julia is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Her passions include creating media for social good, feminism and pizza. She has written for USA Today College, People.com, Parents.com, Healthline and more. Keep up with her writing and random thoughts @Julia_Haskins