Can We Please Be Done With Segregated Bathrooms?

  • Ben Hayward
  • Mar 15, 2017 12:01PM

When it comes to the application of identity politics in the law, there is a long and necessary debate ahead of us. There are good arguments for progress and good arguments for limitations, and I am neither legally qualified or self-absorbed enough to think that I can meaningfully take a stand on the issue. This article is not an attempt to discuss the psychology, cultural context or implications of trans identity.

However, I feel no hesitation at all in taking aim at the scapegoat, and inaccurate poster child for the conflict surround trans rights: bathroom use.

Recently, the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario drew praise and condemnation alike when the city council unanimously passed legislation that allows trans people to use the bathrooms associated with their gender. The city became one of the first in the world to incorporate trans rights protections into its city bylaws.

And while there are many common sense arguments to support the legislation – for example, the public acceptance of trans individuals is known to have a positive effect on the life expectancy and incidence of mental illness within the community, where suicide rates are 1 in 9 and two-thirds suffer from agoraphobia – there is significant reticence in both Canada and the United States.

In Canada, this manifested most clearly in the form of bus ads put out by the Christian Heritage Party depicting a man entering the ladies showers with the caption “Competing Human Rights…Where is the Justice?” While these ads were taken down, they went a long way to convincing the trans population that the rest of the country did not want their rights protected.

In the United States, it has taken the form of the Trump White House reversing the policy of extending sex discrimination to bathroom rights, as well as proposed “bathroom bills” in several states which would deny access to public facilities for trans people.

Last week the shifting grounds of the White House’s position on trans rights caused the Supreme Court to cancel a scheduled hearing in the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans man who sued his school board to be allowed to use the boy’s washroom. Though the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Grimm’s favor, it is unlikely the ruling will extend to other trans people this year.