The Need For A Third Gender Bathroom

The recent passage of same-sex marriage law in New York State, Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone at the MTV Video Music Awards, and Chaz Bono’s scheduled appearance on the 13th season of Dancing with the Stars are just few of many indicators that LGBQTI-identified people are becoming more recognized and appreciated by society.

However, much of the transgender community still feels constrained by a society that places strong emphasis on gender binary and discriminates against those who refuse to conform.  As people living their lives as the opposite sex and more comfortable mixing and crossing gender roles, some day-to-day experiences that some of us might consider normal could be very discomforting.  For example, using a restroom which is generally segregated by gender can be very confusing for the transgendered.  Therefore, in order to prevent discriminatory acts against transgendered people, it would be proactive for states to take up the responsibility of providing a third gender option in the design of public restrooms. 

Due to the harassment, assault, or even arrests that occur as a result of transgendered persons using restrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity or their birth sex, many in the LGBQTI community are calling for the provision of a third gender option restroom in the public space.  Schools and the work place where discrimination is most visible, transgendered / non-conforming persons suffer the most and employers / school authorities would rather turn a blind eye than to address the issue. In a transgender focus group, the Gay Straight Alliance Network found that the lack of safe bathrooms is the biggest problem that gender non-conforming students face. For example, “One Youth wouldn’t use the rest room at school … Instead, he would cross the street to a restaurant and use the men’s room there where people didn’t know he was biologically female.” Nonetheless, states have avoided meddling in the issue, leaving the decision to businesses and schools while putting them at risk for liability in the event of civil lawsuits.

In April, the city of Augusta, Maine, began reviewing bill LD 1046 which would overturn earlier Human Rights Commission rulings in favor of trans people in the state and which would legalize bathroom discrimination against transgendered persons. The bill proposal has sparked debate on both sides, leading the trans community feeling their civil right to a public restroom is being encroached upon.  Many have compared the situation to the pre-1960 South where blacks suffered extreme acts of violence for using public spaces designated solely for whites.

There have been some strides in the trans community regarding the issue. For the most part, trans people want access to the restrooms of the gender they identify with or a third gender option provision. In 2002, the case of Cruzan v. Davis reached the Federal Appeals Court of Minnesota where the courts ruled that it is within the employer’s right to instruct a transgendered employee to use the restroom matching their personal gender identity and should another employee complain, the company may offer the complaining employee an alternative accommodation.   

Opponents of equal access to public restrooms for trans people fear that one cannot quite presume that a transgendered person is acting in good faith and equal access may serve as a gateway for pedophiles, rapists, and peeping toms to get into female-designated restrooms.  Therefore, to appease both sides, a third gender option would be most feasible.  Moreover, as tax-paying, law-abiding citizens of this country, people of this country, they should also be able to enjoy the public amenities that their tax dollars equally contributes to.  

Photo Credit: jemsweb

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Sally Nnamani

International Development grad student at The New School. Interests: immigration policy, sustainable development, private sector development, public-private partnerships. Post-Rio+20 intern at International Chamber of Commerce. Sports lover - basketball, track & field, gymnastics oh and Lebron James!!

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