Where to pee or not to pee, that is the question for transgendered individuals who need to use a restroom facility outside the privacy of their own home without the fear of violence or legal action.
There has been a lot in the news lately about bathrooms, and not with regard to function or design. Rather, the focus has been on who has a right to go to the bathroom and where. Conversely others want to argue who should be kept out or denied access altogether to one gender-specific bathroom or another. (Cavanagh 2010)
Transgendered people have been at the forefront of this movement, wanting to be able to use the bathroom designated for the gender they identify with instead of the gender they were born with. Someone may be born a male and decide they want to be a female, or vice versa, according to Lana Ulrich, associate in-house counsel at the National Constitution Center. She is not alone in that view.
Former President Barrack Obama supported public policy that gave transgendered students in public schools the protection of being able to use facilities based upon the gender with which a person identifies, calling it a matter
of “dignity,” USA Today writer Gregory Korte chronicled in his coverage at the time.
In May 2016, under the Obama administration, the Department of Education announced, “The new guidelines require schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom and locker rooms that correspond to their chosen gender. And by invoking the sex discrimination law known as Title IX, the rules carry with them the threat of federal enforcement — including a loss of federal education funds.” (Korte 1) About 150,000 young people ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. (Hersher 1)
The issue quickly became polarizing and has shaped the course of many political, religious as philosophical debates. This thrust bathrooms and what happens behind closed doors from a safe space of anonymity into the public spotlight. This also became an issue not just about a type of place and who has access to it, but also one about state versus federal rights. This was a key defining line between the campaign platforms and political parties in the 2016 presidential debate and general elections.
Leading up to the election, the state of North Carolina challenged what essentially was a federal mandate. National Public Radio among many other news outlets followed this issue and provided extensive coverage, including Reporter
Rebecca Hersher, who wrote, “Under Obama, the Department of Justice sued the state of North Carolina over its so-called bathroom law, which prohibits municipal governments in the state from passing laws protecting the rights of
transgender people. It also requires trans people in government facilities to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. North Carolina has lost business over the law, including NCAA championship events that were scheduled to be held in the state.”
North Carolina wasn’t alone in it’s challenge of this policy. Bathrooms and access to them continued to dominate headlines and prompted other states — including New Hampshire, Colorado and Texas, to consider restricting access to restrooms for transgender people. (Hersher 1)
Hersher’s article published in February this year, more than a month after newly-elected President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Under his administration, the sanctions were lifted, pushing the matter back into state control. Yet, the issue and the debate spanner far wider than just the size of a stall or even one state. It also reached beyond school-age students. Widespread discussion continued to include public restroom facilities, with some asserting
allowing transgendered individuals to choose which gender-specific bathroom to use could result in instances of violence or even sexual assault.
The National Center for Transgender Equality tried to debunk both of those notions. According to its website, it indicates there isn’t a link between providing a safe environment for transgendered people to make a bathroom choice and any type of “compromise to public safety.” (Hostler 1)
Some even believe it can have the opposite impact, instead making the difficult situation of public restroom use for transgendered individuals safer. This was a concept explored by Kyla Bender-Baird, author of Transgender Employment Experiences: Gendered Perceptions and the Law.
“Changing the structure of bathrooms to be gender inclusive and/or neutral may decrease gender policing in bathrooms and the need for this situational docility, allowing trans and gender non-conforming people to pee in peace,” she writes in her piece subtitled A Journal for Feminist Geography (Bender-Baird 1-6). Which brings the question full circle to not just to pee or not to pee, but rather where can and should transgendered individuals be able to, as Bender-Baird wrote, pee in peace.
For now, the answer presumably won’t come from the federal government, meaning there is no clear-cut policy in the U.S. to provide protection
or to limit access. The issue of regulating transgender bathroom use has been handed back to the states by the Trump administration. (Hershner 1)
Much like toilet paper under a stall in a public restroom, the perceived problem has been passed down the line — given to the states to handle or dispose of, depending upon their preference. They can choose to structure state laws however legislators see fit, unless and until the issue would reach all the way to the United States Supreme Court.