Transgender Bathroom Debate

So often, people have preconceived notions about what it means to be transgender.  For the longest time, media portrayed transgender individuals as freakish or deviant.  Images of men dressed in women’s clothing with bad wigs and clown-like make-up littered television and movie screens.  It was not uncommon to see transgender people being depicted as street walkers, serial killers, or pedophiles.  As a result, negative stereotypes and misinformation plagued the transgender community.

I am not transgender, nor do I claim to know the plight of all transgender individuals.  However, as a PhD candidate with a concentration in Industrial/Organization Psychology, I have a professional interest of transgender people in the workforce.

While working as a college instructor, I met a transgender male who also worked at the school.  He dressed, spoke, and interacted the way society has conditioned us to believe a man should.  In fact, most people he encountered had no idea he had been born a female.  For all intents and purposes, he was a bona fide male.  As such, he used the male bathroom.

When the debate regarding transgender bathroom bills arose, I became perplexed.  “What is the big deal?”  I wondered.  Proponents of so-called bathroom bills posit they would protect public safety by ensuring that all people, including transgender men and women, use public restrooms that correlate with their sex at birth.  Opponents, on the other hand, insist their impact is much wider.  Analysts call them thinly veiled attempts to discriminate against and stigmatize transgender people to score political points.

Supporters use various arguments to make their case—some have a connection with public safety; others doubt the entire notion of gender identity.  But is there empirical evidence to back some of their claims?  What can we deduce from places with protections for transgender people?  Here is an assessment of how those allegations hold up to scrutiny.

One claim alleges sexual predators will take advantage of public accommodation laws and policies covering transgender people to attack women and children in bathrooms.  The fact of the matter is anti-discrimination protections covering gender identity are not new, and there is no evidence to support they lead to attacks in public facilities.

According to CNN, as of March 2017, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 200 municipalities have anti-discrimination laws and ordinances permitting transgender people to utilize public facilities that correlate to their gender identity.  Whenever the subject comes up in the news, law enforcement agencies, state human rights commissions, and prosecutors have steadfastly denied there is any equivalence between such policies and an increase in assaults.  Most notably, civil rights activists argue there are more reports of transgender people being assaulted in bathrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity.

In one of the largest surveys of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans ever conducted, 70% of respondents reported being denied access, physically assaulted, or verbally harassed in public bathrooms.  Conducted by UCLA's Williams Institute in 2013 before the nation's capital passed anti-discrimination protections, the survey built on previous research with similar outcomes.

Another claim asserts being transgender is not a legitimate condition.  This position puts forth that transgender people are mentally ill and should not be afforded the same healthcare guarantees or legal protection as gay and lesbian Americans.  Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of mainstream medical, psychological, and psychiatric communities concur that being transgender is not a mental illness or fabrication.  Plainly put, it is a valid state in which a person's gender does not align with what was assigned at birth.  According to a study published in The Lancet in 2016, typifying transgender identity as a mental disorder contributes to uncertain human rights violations, legal status, as well as impediments to suitable health care.

A condition is defined as a mental illness when it causes considerable distress. According to the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and other healthcare organizations, for many, merely being transgender does not cause dysfunction; it is the social ignominy and obstacles to articulating a person's identity that cause complications.

Although there is a lot of anxiety linked to this issue, it seems to be based on fear instead of facts. Knowing this, it is truly demoralizing to see so many states, and now our federal government, make a conscious choice to treat transgender people with what appears to be hatred.

Dwan Johnson holds an MBA in Marketing and is currently pursuing a PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology with a concentration in Leadership Development and Coaching. She is the author of eight traditionally published books and her articles have appeared in numerous online and print publications. She resides in a suburb of Atlanta with her husband and daughter and works as an Instructional Coordinator.

Gersen, J. S. (2016, May 24). The transgender bathroom debate and the looming Title IX crisis. The New Yorker24. Retrieved from: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/public-bathroom-regulations-could-create-a-title-ix-crisis

Steinmetz, K. (2015). Everything you need to know about the debate over transgender people and bathrooms. Time28. Retrieved from: http://time.com/3974186/transgender-bathroom-debate/

Stern, M. J., Oehme, K., Stern, N., Urbach, E., Simonsen, E., & Garcia, A. (October 12, 2017). The judicial and generational dispute over transgender rights. Stanford Law & Policy Review, 29(1), Forthcoming; FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 859. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3051970

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