The debate about transgender rights is more heated than ever now that society is beginning to open its arms to diversity. While transgender people are protected by the law, they are not treated with the equality that they deserve as human beings.
Early this month, a high school in Illinois was ordered by federal authorities to allow a transgender student access to the girls’ locker room. Prior to this ruling, the student, who was assigned male at birth, was required to change and shower in private separately from her peers on the all-female sports team in which she participated.
In early 2015, another school in Idaho allowed a 13-year-old transgender girl to use the female bathroom, which sparked outrage from her peers and their parents.
“I’m not there to hurt anyone, and what’s between my legs is not a symbol of who I am,” the student, D.W. Trantham, said in a radio interview.
The topic of transgender access to bathrooms is an interesting one because the practice of males and females using separate bathrooms has always been a societal norm. People have been conditioned to expect to only see people of the same gender in the bathrooms that they use.
But what defines a person’s gender that decides which bathroom is societally acceptable for them to use?
The answer varies across the board. The conservative camp would argue that a person’s gender is determined by the sex they are assigned at birth whereas the liberal camp would argue that a person’s gender is the gender that they personally identify with.
The confusion about a person’s gender is perhaps one of the main obstacles preventing transgender people from using the restrooms of their choice.
“My criticism is that because there is no objective standard for police officers, or the public or anyone else to determine whether a person is using the ordinance to gain permission to enter sex segregated areas like bathrooms and so on, it is too dangerous,” Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Privacy is another concern that people have about transgender people in gender-specific bathrooms—particularly female bathrooms. To tackle this concern, some schools and workplaces across the country have implemented gender-neutral bathrooms. These bathrooms, which can be used by anybody of any gender or lack thereof, aim to foster a safe environment where a person’s gender identity does not matter.
On a local level, West Hollywood recently enacted a law requiring businesses to make all single-stalled bathrooms gender neutral.
“I know for a number of transgender people that having to choose whether to go into the male or female restroom is not as easy as it can be for non-transgender people,” West Hollywood councilmember Abbe Land told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s all about access and equality.”
While gender neutral bathrooms do rectify part of the problem, at the end of the day they still do not fully tackle the issue of equality for transgender people. Using gender neutral bathrooms can single them out and cause even more discomfort.
State public schools in California now allow transgender students to use gender-specific bathrooms of whichever gender they identify with. With this small step comes progress and with progress comes a more inclusive and accepting society.