Column: Trans Access to Bathrooms is a Reproductive Justice Issue

It seems like the most basic of human rights: to be able to use a public bathroom without feeling unsafe. Yet if conservative lawmakers in Florida have their way, bathrooms will soon become hostile territory for many trans and gender nonconforming Floridians.

 A bill that is moving through committee in the Florida legislature (HB 583) would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to “knowingly and willfully” enter a public facility, such as a bathroom or locker room, that is restricted to members “of the other biological sex.” Maximum penalties would be 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. The bill would also penalize business who fail to police their bathrooms in compliance with therule. The House Government Operations Subcommittee recently approved the measure by a vote of 7-4, mostly along party lines.

 There is so much wrong with this bill it’s hard to know where to begin. First, the bill is based on scaremongering and misinformation by anti-LGBTQ conservatives intended to sow fear that trans people using public bathrooms poses a threat to public health and safety. 

 This could not be further from the truth. In reality, we know that trans people are far more at risk than a threat—whether in public bathrooms or in other public places. Across the country, trans people frequently face physical attacks, threats, bullying, police harassment, and even arrest just for trying to use the restroom where they feel the safest and most comfortable. As the DC Trans Coalition points out:

  “The idea that trans people are more likely to commit such crimes is only a harmful, bigoted stereotype. Further, even if trans people are allowed to use the bathroom that is consistent with our gender identity, there are already laws against sexual assault. Allowing us to pee in peace won’t change that, or make it easier for anyone to break those existing laws.”

 Forcing trans people to use a bathroom in which they feel unsafe, and are likely to be targeted, “outed,” or even assaulted is inhumane. The consequences of such a bill becoming law would no doubt include increased violence against trans and gender nonconforming (GNC) Floridians and further marginalize communities that already face unacceptably high levels of police and interpersonal violence and discrimination in employment and healthcare,which in turn cause and exacerbate poverty, uninsurance, and homelessness. The obstacles are even greater for trans Latinas and other women of color.

 Despite these clear and compelling facts, conservative legislators continue to push reactionary and bigoted proposals like this one. The bill’s supporters have truly shown their ignorance as they’ve pushed the bill forward: trotting out tired transphobic stereotypes and casually dismissing the very real threat to trans people’s lives posed by this bill as mere: “discomfort, inconvenience and awkwardness.”

 It’s hard to tell where the lack of understanding of trans people’s lived experience ends and the willful disrespect begins.

 While this bill is clearly an attack on trans and GNC people, and that is reason enough to oppose it, the consequences could be even more far-reaching. Because the bill would penalize business that fail to adequately police their bathrooms, this means that business owners would now be responsible for trying to guess the “biological sex” of anyone using the restroom, a policy that beyond being conceptually incoherent would be impossible to enforce without severe invasions of privacy. Anyone who is deemed to be suspicious could be singled out or refused service. 

 The entire premise is dehumanizing. As a queer person and reproductive justice advocate, it’s crystal clear to me that this bill is a violation of human rights, dignity, and self-determination. Being able to address your basic human needs--like using a public restroom--is about bodily autonomy, health, and safety. On the other hand, forcing business to collude with government to police the so-called "biological sex" of anyone using a bathroom would be ludicrous if the potential harms weren't so deadly serious. That's why I’m going to keep fighting it every step of the way.

 Trans people—trans women in particular—already face violence, discrimination, and harassment simply for stepping outside their homes. This bill would only add to that toxic culture that denies trans people their humanity and forces some to fear the simple act of going outside. Floridians need policies that respect the human rights of all our communities, and the last thing we need is the Sex Police patrolling public bathrooms. It's time for FL legislators to take this discriminatory, unworkable bathroom bill--and flush it.

Gabriel Garcia-Vera is Florida Latina Advocacy Network Field Coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.


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