IN FEBRUARY, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina passed an ordinance that protected trans peoples’ rights to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The state of North Carolina swiftly responded by passing a bill on March 23rd that takes away cities’ ability to pass such anti-discrimination legislation, and that requires people across the state to use facilities that correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Legislation attempting to bar trans people from using public bathrooms, deny transition-related health care, and refuse to make licenses and other documents that correspond with their gender identity, is all the rage. Forty-four pieces of discriminatory legislation have been introduced in the first few months of 2016. Nine states currently have pending “bathroom bills.” The rhetoric bolstering these bills focuses on privacy and safety, claiming that loosening restrictions around bathroom access could allow men to harass and violate women in restrooms. Media Matters reported that women’s advocacy groups, government officials, and law enforcement experts have debunked the myth that men pretend to be transgender in order to enter women’s bathrooms.
Few people in the world are particularly psyched to use a public restroom, but those of us who identify as the gender we were assigned at birth may take easy access for granted. It can be difficult to imagine this routine fulfillment of our biological need to be steeped in political controversy – to be not only a source of anxiety and even danger, but possible legal consequences. The bill currently being considered in Kansas, for example, would subject a trans individual to a $2,500 fine if someone reported their use of a facility not in line with their assigned gender.
These bills do more than inconvenience trans people. They institutionalize a form of discrimination that tells trans people, whenever they enter a public space, that something is wrong with them, and who they are will not be tolerated. A study published in 2016 found that being denied access to gender-appropriate restrooms increases lifetime suicide attempt incidence among trans people.
It’s important for allies to not only support trans people in our hearts and minds, but in our actions as well. One way to do so is to actively resist legalized discrimination. Heather Hogan at AutoStraddle compiled links for contacting legislators in states with anti-trans legislation pending as well as organizations that are working against these bills. Check those out, particularly if you live in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, South Carolina, or Washington.
In addition to resisting discriminatory legislation, we can press our representatives on the local, state, and national level to put in place anti-discrimination legislation – for everything from bathrooms to housing and employment. While we wait (loudly and impatiently) for Congress to finally move on the Equality Act, which would institute federal protections, we can look into our local and state ordinances, pressing for progress on these levels.
Discriminatory bills don’t only put into place institutional barriers for trans individuals; they speak to a broader culture of hostility. In addition to opposing anti-trans legislation, it’s important to act in ways that counter the more general, pervasive cultural oppression trans people confront.
Getting in on the “I’ll Go With You” campaign is one way to disrupt that culture in your daily life. You can purchase an I’ll Go With You button to wear in public; it lets trans people know that, if they feel uncomfortable or threatened using a public restroom, you’re someone they can ask to accompany them. Your presence may be enough to inhibit harassment or acts of violence. And your show of support will be one counterexample to the regular hostility trans people face.
The I’ll Go With You campaign emphasizes the safety both of trans individuals and of allies that serve as “bathroom buddies.” The campaign organizers compiled a list of helpful tips for responding to different levels of harassment one might encounter to maximize safety. Part of being an ally is knowing how to do so effectively and safely. Be prepared.
We unfortunately live in a society in which trans individuals can’t take a leak without it being a political and legal fiasco. We live in a society in which it’s still legal in many states to deny trans people jobs and housing based on their gender identity, in which trans people are murdered for daring to exist, and from which a terrifying number recuse themselves through suicide. We desperately need a countermovement of people to say, “I’m here for you. You matter. You deserve comfort and safety,” with our words and our actions.