Paul McGuire | Legally LGBT
Transgender individuals using the restroom of their expressed gender should not be an issue. Sadly, there have been a number of stories in which transgender individuals have been told that they cannot use the restrooms of their choosing. The issue is especially sensitive for school children who face teasing from their peers when they identify as transgender.
Gender non-conforming children have a difficult time in school because they are presumed gay or lesbian. It should be a no-brainer that a kid who identifies as a girl should be able to use the girl’s restroom, but sadly that is not always the case.
A proposed California law would guarantee transgender students the right to use the restrooms and participate on sports teams that correspond to their expressed gender. If approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s AB 1266 would give young people the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” regardless of what gender is listed on their school records.
Discrimination against transgender individuals is already illegal in California but this would clarify the law so that schools will not have to wait until a student is excluded to address this issue. Colorado has anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender individuals, but that did not stop a school from excluding a young child from accessing the bathroom of her expressed gender. She is now suing to force her school district to allow her to use the proper restrooms.
The proposed California law is not without opposition. The Capitol Resource Institute opposed the law in a newsletter to its members because it believes that students who ”object to sharing bathrooms, showers and locker rooms with students of the opposite sex” will face “discrimination claims and punishment.” Karen England, executive director of the Institute, said her group would fight the legislation, which she called “extreme” and “dangerous.”
California is not the only state that has taken steps to address this issue. In Oregon, one high school created gender-neutral bathrooms as an option for students who don’t feel comfortable in either bathroom. I spoke to my friend Ashley, who is currently transitioning, and she said she would never want to use a gender-neutral bathroom because she identifies as a woman.
However, the transgender man in Oregon who brought the issue to the school’s attention doesn’t feel comfortable using either the men’s or women’s restroom. Having a third option is a way to make students similar to him feel safe.
For lawmakers in other states, however, the issue has not been so straightforward. Arizona lawmakers proposed legislation that would have criminalized the use of bathrooms that do not correspond to the sex listed on your birth certificate. This proposed law was a response to a Phoenix City Council ordinance that expanded the anti-discrimination law to add protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The proposed legislation has been replaced by a version that would protect businesses from lawsuits for prohibiting transgender individuals from using the restroom of their expressed gender. The bill’s supporter, Rep. John Kavanagh said he believes this protection is necessary to protect children from pedophiles who want to expose themselves to children of the opposite gender.
This indicates Kavanagh’s lack of understanding of what it means to be transgender, and thankfully, there was little tolerance for Kavanagh’s original bill, indicating that the general public is more understanding of the reality of these issues.
As a bisexual man myself I have encountered my share of confusion from people who don’t want to take the time to understand what it means to be bisexual. So that everyone feels welcome in society, I think we all should take the time to learn about differences before jumping to conclusions based on stereotypes.
Our elected officials have an even higher burden to explore those differences before proposing legislation that ostracizes a group of people.
—Paul D. McGuire is an openly bisexual family law attorney in San Diego who assists families dealing with dissolution of marriage and domestic partnerships. He writes a blog on family law and LGBT issues at paul-mcguire.com.