Friday, April 22, 2016

Transgender Bathroom Ban: Is It Policy That Belongs In the Toilet?

Earlier this week, an appeals court ruled that the Virginia ban on transgender individuals entering the bathroom that best aligns with their gender identity is a violation of Title IX law. This has been the latest trend of the hot-button topic on transgender individuals and public restroom bans. Last month, North Carolina passed its controversial ban saying that you have to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on your birth certificate (unless you change the gender on the birth certificate). The silver lining in the North Carolina bill is that a private institution still can offer accommodations, such as a single-occupancy bathroom, to transgender individuals. The question is whether the government needs to be involved in creating these public restroom bans in the first place.

The most common reason for creating such bans in the first place is the "bathroom predator" argument, which essentially is that allowing for transgender individuals to enter whichever bathroom they please is going to be a false pretense for predatory behavior. Before getting into whether such a fear is accurate or simply misplaced, let me ask something beforehand: can you imagine trying to enforce this ban? Assuming that there is one bathroom in each facility, you're talking about over 9.33 million bathrooms (BLS, Q3 2015) on a national level in the private sector. Where in the world are you going to get the manpower to enforce the ban? Even if you had that manpower, then what? Are you going to check each individual's driver's license or birth certificate? Because if you really want to be certain that the individual is going into the right restroom, you should check their genitalia. Talking about making a private matter invasive! Without such enforcement, the ban becomes as useful as posting a "gun-free zone" sign in order to stop gun crimes.

Let's mention some facts to contextualize the extent to which the "bathroom predator" argument exists. Sexual assault has dropped 35.8 percent nationwide between 1993 and 2013, and has dropped in North Carolina by 18.6 percent between 2003 and 2013 to a rate that is below the national average. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 82 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by people known to the victims. There is no evidence showing that transgender individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault, and prevents people looking for red flags from actual predators. Even better, how many verifiable reports of sexual assault in the United States exist as a result of transgender individuals using the bathroom of their choice? Zero! This is a policy that has zero basis in what actually happens, so it begs the question of why this is even at the forefront of politics.

As a tangent, there is another place where transgender individuals do not pose a threat: in the military. While the study has yet to be released, a study from the Rand Corporation recently concluded that transgendered individuals in the military would not diminish unit cohesion. The Palm Center released a study in 2014 that recommended allowing a more inclusive policy for the 15,500 transgender individuals that serve in the military. Military service is not the same thing as bathroom access, but at the same time, if transgendered individuals posed such an enormous threat, then it would be evident in something such as the military. Whether it is the military or bathrooms, we have to ask ourselves: Why ban something out of concern for safety if it is not even dangerous or deleterious in the first place?

And let's not forget the societal cost that these bans cause. According to a 2013 study from the UCLA's William Institute, nearly 70 percent of transgender individuals have experienced verbal assault while using the bathroom, while 10 percent have experienced sexual assault. A study released a few days ago from Georgia State University shows the adverse effects that such discrimination as bathroom bans have on transgender college students (Seelman, 2016). Transgender bathroom bans only increase the prevalence of anti-transgender behavior by reinforcing transgender individuals as "the other" and can cause health issues, particularly for transgender youth.

Transgender bathroom bans are superfluous, to say the least. Conservatives who are proponents of these laws are trying to make a mountain out of a very tiny mole hill. If I were to be cynical, I would say that now that ripping on gay and lesbian individuals is no longer a part of polite society, these individuals have to go onto making the lives of another group a living hell. Much like we have learned with the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and the gay rights movement, granting equality to individuals does not harm society. This only comes off as another scare tactic from certain individuals on the Right. In the public policy world, the burden of proof falls on those looking to enact the policy. There has to be evidence that such an issue exists. Much like I pointed up while discussing same-sex couples adopting children, if the burden of proof were on naysayers, then we would have to approve many ridiculous policies, including the invasion of Mozambique, traveling to Jupiter, or preparing for an alien invasion. There are no verifiable cases of the issue even existing. Even if there were, then one would have to prove that transgender individuals were such a disproportionate threat to society. Barring that improbability, the hypothetical of increased sexual assault rates (which hasn't been the case for at least two decades) would be best handled by better enforcement of harassment laws.

It is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but aside from improved enforcement of harassment laws, gender-neutral bathrooms would be one way to solve the issue. Not only have restrooms historically been gender-neutral, but what gets in the way of making them gender-neutral once more is state and local building codes based on antiquated norms surrounding gender binary. Another way would be single-occupancy restrooms, although there would be transition costs for businesses, many of whom are on the smaller end. There are many ways of dealing with the fact that transgender people exist, like getting to know them and realize that much like everyone else, they are human beings. Like every other human being, transgender individuals have to go to the bathroom. And like the vast majority of human beings, transgender people do not go into a bathroom with the intent of checking out others' genitalia: they are there to urinate and/or defecate, like just about everyone else. It is not simply that America is facing more pressing issues than who goes to the bathroom where. It is a matter of treating transgender like human beings that deserve respect and dignity. I thought it was a lesson we have learned in the past, but apparently, another civil rights movement is in order because such laws deny reality about gender identity. I hope that we learn from this more quickly than from past civil rights movements, but considering that transgender bathroom bans without a basis in research or empirical evidence are becoming increasingly popular among conservative politicians, I will retain my skepticism about such progress taking place.

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