By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
We do it every day, usually more than once. We go the restroom. It is a natural, human need. So why is it so hard to use a restroom when one is transgendered?
No, it isn’t that our plumbing is so baroque that basic bodily functions elude us. Rather, it seems as if others want to make it as difficult as possible for us to simply use the facilities.
The most recent example of this comes from New York, where a lawsuit filed by the Hispanic AIDS Forum – after their landlord failed to renew their lease – was dismissed by a state appeals court. The reason their landlord refused to renew was because transgender clients were using the common-area rest rooms in the building, and the landlord had asked the Hispanic AIDS Forum to restrict said clients from doing so.
The appellate court dismissed this by a 4-1 majority, agreeing with an earlier ruling that restroom exclusion based on biological “gender” versus “self-image” is not discriminatory. Their definitions, not mine.
If anything, this decision shows that yes, the state of New York’s long-awaited sexual orientation inclusive anti-discrimination law can still fall flat thanks to the exclusion of transgender individuals within that law. I hope that folks in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere are taking notes – but I digress.
The lawyer for the landlord based his case on the simple argument that women using the facilities would be threatened by having “men” in the restroom with them, saying, “I don’t think there’s anybody in America who doesn’t understand this.”
Now may be when I raise my hand, and not to be excused.
The thing is, where am I supposed to urinate if I have to? If my presence will disturb natal women in a restroom, is it better that I go into a far more threatening situation by using the men’s room?
The problem is that the court’s assumption is that none of the transgender women are anything other than men, and that, therefore, they will upset the non-transgender women. This assumption is clearly flawed.
While not just blurting such out, this decision also seems to be saying that transgender women, being men, would be in the restroom for some nefarious purpose that would threaten non-transgender women.
This also doesn’t address female to male individuals using the facilities, but the decision would seem to require them to use the women’s room – and if the non-transgender women would be uncomfortable with the male to females in there, imagine how they’ll feel with those who are male-identified sharing the facilities with them.
This is far from the first time that the issue of restroom use has come up. While I’ve been remarkably lucky, more than a few friends and acquaintances of mine have been terminated from jobs due to the simple fact of having to use the facilities once in a while. In other cases, people have been segregated from using the same restrooms as their co-workers, having to use restrooms on other floors, in other buildings, or even down the street at the gas station.
No, I’m not making that up.
As I said at the beginning of this, using a toilet is something that each of us does on a daily basis. This is just about have a safe place to do one’s business.
As a transgender woman, I expect to be able to use the same facilities as any other variety of woman. I also expect men’s rooms to be available to all varieties of men. If there is a problem with someone being disruptive, dangerous, or indiscrete in any given restroom, deal with that person as an individual.
Let’s add another dimension. Why not also include gender-neutral facilities, so that those who don’t want or don’t need to fit into either man or woman can have a place? Many larger facilities already have “family restrooms” and the like, and many smaller restrooms already have single stall restrooms that could be just as easily be gender-neutral versus having one of two possible stick figures on the door.
That way everyone has an option they’ll feel safe with – and after all, isn’t this about making people feel safe in the restroom?