Dear Civilities: The two public restrooms at our local theater are now trans-accessible, meaning the door placards were changed to ambiguous silhouettes that represent both male and female. But the theater often hosts school groups. At a recent teen gallery opening, mothers and grandmothers barred the doors to prevent men from entering while their daughters and granddaughters were using the two-stall facilities. I thought this was an unfortunate side effect of a trans-positive change, but I do think it’s a problem for children to use coed bathrooms alongside adults. How to find a compromise?
— Name withheld, San Francisco
A: Here’s my advice to the worried mothers and grandmothers in this situation: Go into the restroom along with your young charges to wash your hands, fix your hair and keep an eye out. Notice I didn’t say with your daughters — my advice applies to boys as well, because this is an issue of safety, not gender. But please, don’t bar access to others who also have the right to use the facilities.
Public restrooms are clearly the next LGBT battleground, with a decided emphasis on the “T.” After last year’s ugly, but successful, effort to repeal Houston’s equal rights ordinance (largely because opponents claimed it would allow male predators to assault women and children) the floodgates have opened. Several states — including Texas, Arizona, Florida and Kentucky — are now considering bills that would bar bathroom access for transgender people. Last month, after fiery debate, South Dakota passed a bill requiring students to use restrooms designated for the gender at birth — to be determined by a chromosomal test or birth certificate. The governor has until March 1 to sign or veto the bill.
This misguided — and discriminatory — battle is primarily about keeping transgender women out of women’s restrooms. Laws are positioned as measures to defend women against “sexual predators,” but the facts don’t support that fear. “In the places where transgender-inclusive policies exist, there has been no increase in [restroom] public safety incidents,” said Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of programs for transgender media. He added that even when nondiscrimination protections include transgender people, it’s always illegal “for anyone to enter a public restroom for the purpose of harassing or harming another person, or invading their privacy.”
Let’s also remember that the overwhelming majority of sexual predators are straight men, which is why I would not want a daughter or son of mine to go unsupervised into a bathroom with adult men.
Access to safe bathroom space is such a basic need, but a recent Williams Institute study confirmed that transgender people face significant discrimination and harassment when trying to use the restroom. The study (of transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals in the Washington area) concluded that an astonishing 70 percent had had a negative experience in a restroom, including verbal threats, physical assault and being denied access.
Transgender people can find themselves in a no-win situation, as did the child whose experience prompted this headline: “School suspends trans boy for using boys’ restroom — after girls complained he was using theirs.”
In any event, it sounds as if the theater, well-intentioned though it may be, made a bad call with its signage. Making restrooms trans-inclusive doesn’t mean mixing genders in multi-user restrooms — and that is not the kind of equal access transgender rights advocates seek.
“Having single-occupancy bathrooms be available to everyone helps not only transgender people, but also parents with small children, or people providing medical assistance to an elderly parent or someone who is disabled,” Adams said.
In the meantime, we all need to take a deep breath, avoid “bathroom panic” — and let people pee in peace.
Update: Late Tuesday, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed the first anti-transgender bathroom bill to pass a state legislature.
Is “straight” an offensive term?
Dear Civilities: I’ve read some comments by people who say they are offended by the term straight, yet the GLAAD ally handbook uses the term frequently. Shouldn’t all of us, gay or not, be able to define ourselves and decide what we should be called? I don’t want to be called cisgender, if anyone cares. — Anonymous
A: Okay, I’ll be sure not to refer to you as cisgender, but I do want to make sure you understand that it’s not a synonym for straight. Transgender and cisgender refer to gender identity (male, female or somewhere in between), not sexual orientation (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual). In other words, you can be straight and transgender (like Chaz Bono) or straight and cisgender (like Cher).
As for whether the term “straight” is offensive, even my trusty Urban Dictionary, the master tome of snark, has nothing snide to say about it. Its definition: “heterosexual.”