Across the nation, states are pursuing legislation that many see as discriminatory toward transgender individuals. On March 23, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act into law that mandates people entering a gender-specified restroom or changing facility in a government building must use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex noted on their birth certificate. Since then, members of the LGBT community and others have been vocal in their opposition of the North Carolina law.
The North Carolina General Assembly held an extra session to vote this bill into law after an ordinance passed Feb. 22 in Charlotte. The ordinance allowed people to use the restroom that matched their gender identity. Since legislators say the ordinance exceeded the rights the city council had, the extra session was held to keep the ordinance from going into effect April 1.
“This ordinance would have eliminated the basic expectations of privacy people have when using the restroom by allowing people to use the restroom of their choice,” a statement from McCrory’s office said. “This new local regulation brought up serious privacy concerns by parents, businesses and others across the state, as well as safety concerns that this new local rule could be used by people who would take advantage of this to do harm to others.”
Transgender people and allies from around the country have denounced this bill saying it goes against their civil rights and is targeting and discriminating against transgender individuals. Businesses have also voiced their concerns about the bill, as well as their support for the transgender community.
“It makes it easier for people to not accept other people,” Paxton Neville, a transgender man living in Chicago, said. “If it’s seriously an issue about people being predatory, people are going to do that anyway. I can’t think of any reason why you would need that [law]in place now other than hate mongering.”
Rep. Tom Morrison of Illinois’ 54th district brought a similar bill before the Illinois General Assembly in January. Morrison’s bill, the Pupil Physical Privacy Act, would affect public schools — requiring students to use facilities that match their biological sex. Like the North Carolina law, this bill does not prohibit transgender people from using single occupancy restrooms and it states that transgender students can request special accommodation.
“This bill creates a reasonable compromise and gives (transgender students) the ability to work with the school,” Morrison said.
Morrison pursued this legislation after a case in his hometown of Palatine made national news. A transgender student filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after she was not allowed to use the women’s locker room at Fremd High School. The student won her case and transgender students were granted access to the locker room and restroom that matched their gender identity.
After Morrison was unable to create change in his school district, he prepared to take the issue to the general assembly. According to Morrison, allowing students of another biological sex into gender-specific areas can be harmful. Morrison referred to cases where sexual abuse victims were uncomfortable with people of another biological sex being in a private space.
“When you have a very subjective standard, it is hard to have any kind of order into who goes into what space,” Morrison said.
Vanessa Sheridan is the director of Trans Relations and Community Engagement at Center on Halsted, a community center in the Lakeview neighborhood for LGBTQ people. As a transgender woman, she has experienced discrimination based on her gender. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, transgender students commit suicide at a rate of 41 percent, which makes gender affirmations important, according to Sheridan.
“Trans kids have enough problems without legislators sticking their noses and anatomy into their business,” Sheridan said. “We need to not focus on trans people as predators because they’re not.”
North Carolina and Illinois are not the only states to introduce similar bills to their general assemblies. Oklahoma, Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee also introduced bills, although not all of them have made significant headway. A bill in Georgia made it through the state house and senate before Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill when companies like Disney, Unilever and the NFL threatened to take money out of investments in Georgia.
Supporters of these bills say their religious freedom is being threatened when ordinances are put in place that accommodate transgender people, but critics say these laws are designed to promote discrimination. Regardless of people’s positions, the national dialogue is open, and Neville sees this as a possible springboard for transgender rights.
“If this is what it takes to get people to look at things differently and maybe question what we’re doing here, maybe it’s a good thing,” Neville said. “Maybe this step backward is leading to something better.”