The trans bathroom debate

Should people with nontraditional gender identities be allowed to choose which restrooms they use?

Published July 16, 2009 10:10AM (EDT)

It's a big week for transgender rights activists: In New York, prosecutors are seeking a hate-crime conviction in the case against Dwight DeLee, the man on trial for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old transwoman Lateisha Green. If the charge sticks, DeLee will be only the second person in U.S. history to be convicted of a hate crime in the murder of a transgender person.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts lawmakers are considering adding "gender identity or expression" to an existing list of categories protected under state hate crime and civil rights regulations. The Legislature is expected to vote on the bill by the end of the year. And, of course, anti-trans groups are already mounting propaganda campaigns against it.

Like many arguments about trans people, this one involves the inevitable single-sex bathroom debate. The AP reports: "The Massachusetts Family Institute has begun running radio ads warning mothers that they may no longer want to let their young daughters use public restrooms because 'Beacon Hill is about to make it legal for men to use women's bathrooms.'" The organization's president, Kris Mineau, is claiming that "the bill would open up all gyms, showers, restrooms and shelters to anyone of any gender because there's no clear way to determine if an individual is transgender." He also claims the bill will "make it easier for the thousands of registered sex offenders in Massachusetts to gain access to children and women in public restrooms by claiming they are transgender." (He also said transgender people suffer from a mental disorder and need psychiatric help, so we have a sense of his level of enlightenment.)

This bizarre scenario, in which dangerous sexual predators "disguise" themselves as transgendered in order to gain access to a bathroom, seems more than a bit over-the-top and paranoid.

But the bathroom debate does invoke its own set of interesting slippery slope questions. As traditional notions of gender become more fluid, what is to become of single-sex public amenities -- the "gyms, showers, restrooms and shelters" Mineau mentions? Will -- and should -- these spaces inevitably become gender neutral? What do you think, Broadsheet readers: Are single-sex bathrooms prudish, antiquated and insensitive to trans people? Or are these spaces still necessary to protect the privacy of both genders?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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