As we make our way around the public world — offices, stores, restaurants, work, school — we rely on having a private place to attend to our biological needs. Part of the privacy comes in being segregated by gender. Generally speaking, men would not welcome women standing behind them as they use a urinal, and women would not be comfortable with a man in the next stall.
People who identify with the gender that does not correspond to their birth gender deserve this same privacy. They are a small minority, and the public does not know much about their circumstances, so misconceptions and fears abound. But their use of bathrooms should be left to their own discretion, as is everyone else’s.
A proposal to amend the Maine Human Rights Act has the goal of protecting the privacy of the nontransgender public in public bathrooms. This isn’t necessary and, instead, it has the potential to embarrass transgender people and put them at risk of harassment.
The bill, LD 1046, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Fredette, would exempt businesses and institutions from the discrimination provisions of the Human Rights Act on the use of bathrooms and shower facilities.
Though the intent is guided by a desire to ease the tensions surrounding this issue, its implementation is rife with problems. First among them is: Who decides what the person’s biological sex is? Will a restaurant manager confront a person who looks like a man entering the women’s room and demand to know his or her biological sex?
“Who’s going to be the gender police?” asked a local transgender woman, in discussing the proposal. It’s a good question. A local transgender man asked another good question: “Do I want to break the law or use the women’s room?”
The two, who advocate for transgender rights, also note that it is they who face the greater likelihood of being harassed in a bathroom. In the past five years, there have been two public cases related to transgender use of bathrooms. In both, the transgender person merely wanted to use the bathroom; neither was accused of any inappropriate behavior.
It is — and should be — behavior that is the standard, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. If someone is peeking over a stall, he or she is clearly breaking the rules.
Under the current system, gay men use men’s rooms, lesbian women use women’s rooms and mothers with young boys often bring them into women’s rooms, all without problems. The threat of a man dressing as a woman to gain access to a women’s locker room, for example, has always existed, and extending the protections of the Human Rights Act to transgender people does not increase that threat.
Rep. Fredette believes transgender people do not have an absolute right to use the facilities of their choice. Circumscribing such rights is possible, but it is not practical. In the real world, men, women and transgender people have to use the facilities. A business or public institution, by virtue of being public, must let patrons choose the door they enter. The alternative is harassment, litigation and hassles that businesses don’t want.