Arizona Bill Would Punish Transgender People Who Use the "Wrong Bathroom"

For transgender people, the struggle for acceptance is not limited to attending school and participation in sports — even using the bathroom can be a task fraught with anxiety and discrimination, and Arizona is not making it any easier.

Legislators in the state are attempting to pass a bill that would ban transgender people — who were assigned a gender at birth and now identify as a different one — from using public toilets, showers, and dressing rooms that do not correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate.

For example, a transgender woman (born with male genitalia but identifies as female) would face legal action if caught using the women's restroom.

This would challenge recent Phoenix legislation prohibiting gender identity discrimination in public settings.

Violation of the new law would be considered "disorderly conduct," a class 1 misdemeanor, and be punishable by a $4,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

Rep. John Kavanagh, who crafted the bill, said that allowing transgender people (or according to him, "people [who] define their sex by what they think in their head") to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify would "[raise] the specter of people who want to go into those opposite sex facilities not because they're transgender, but because they're weird."

The House Appropriations Committee is set to hear the issue on Wednesday afternoon, and several protesters are planning to be present as well.

Gay councilman Tom Simplot is one of the main opponents of the bill.

"This kind of extremist legislation is exactly what brings criticism to Arizona and compromises our work to make Phoenix an accepting and competitive city," he said. The bill, he added, would criminalize the "very nature" of being transgender and that "they’re creating a problem that doesn't exist."

Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, agrees.

"These [anti-discrimination] laws are in effect in more than 160 cities and 16 states," she said. "[The problem of sexual predation on minors that the bill alleges to address] just doesn't occur. It's one of the terrible things that opponents of equality always raise in hopes of scaring people."

Although Arizona does offer transgender people the opportunity to change their birth certificates to reflect their proper gender, they must undergo gender reassignment surgery first, something that not all transgender people choose to do. Also, because the surgery results in sterilization, they would be sacrificing their ability to have children just to be able to "show their papers to pee," as Kavanagh put it.

This news is only the latest in a laundry list of bathroom-related stories where transgender people have faced discrimination for what most people regard as a commonplace task. Even children such as Coy Mathis have been harassed and told to use a different bathroom because she has "male genitalia." For Mathis, presenting herself as a girl so early (she's 6-years-old) could mean a harrowing upbringing in schools that refuse to accept her as she is.

Whether or not the Arizona House Appropriations Committee puts the bill forward for a vote or not, everyone should consider the absurdity of such a bill. No one should have to worry about using the bathroom, whether the consequence is harassment or jail time.

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Christine Salek

Christine is a writer and perpetual student living in Des Moines, Iowa. Her writing can also be found on Medium, the Gonzaga Bulletin, and ResearchGate.

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