Can We Please Be Done With Segregated Bathrooms?

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.

The myth of trans people committing assaults in bathrooms is what propels most of the fear and dissent surrounding the subject. People often say they don’t want their little girl alone in a bathroom with what is essentially a man, or some similar nonsense. In an investigation of the 200 municipalities that allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, CNN found that only one case of assault had ever been reported in relation to the issue. In that case, a non-trans man used the precedent to claim he identified as a woman in order to undress in a woman’s change room – his argument was dismissed, and charges were pressed.

However, even I have to admit that the issue is tempestuous – when is a case of gender identity or dysphoria advanced enough to warrant a change of bathroom? How does the law, and we as a society, decide when it is appropriate for a person to transition spaces where we do some of our private and intimate business?

It’s real simple: we stop gender assigned bathrooms altogether.

Think about it, an open room with lockable floor to ceiling stalls. No matter your gender, this model would improve privacy, safety, and accountability. If we’re all using the same bathrooms, then we have a greater vested interest in making sure they are safe.

The notion of segregating bathrooms based on gender seems to me as ridiculous as separating any other element of society on the same basis. Men and women share every other space, and in private have been sharing bathroom spaces for all of human history.

Separate bathrooms are a relic of a time gone by, a time when women were vulnerable to what men might do in bathrooms because there were no laws or societal pressure to protect them. Now that such laws and equality exist, I see no more reason to segregate a bathroom than a classroom or a workplace.

A recent poll found that 53% of Americans were opposed to bathroom bills and did not see the benefit in keeping trans people out of their preferred stalls. By extension, I think it is safe to assume that most Americans have larger concerns than who they pee next to.

Integrated bathrooms also have a surprising beneficiary, the people who suffer most under the current system: trans people. 70% of trans-identified people have reported being assaulted or harassed in a bathroom context, a figure that is astronomically higher than the rest of the population.

The thing I like most about the solution of integrated bathrooms – or maybe like just as much as the reduction in assaults and harassment of people using the “wrong bathroom” – is that it should appeal to both sides of the issue. Whether you’re a supporter of trans rights or not, everyone using the same bathroom removes the problem of systemic abuse of people over suspicion of crimes that are statistically unlikely to happen. If we all use the same facilities there is no room to tell certain folks they aren’t allowed in there, we judge them only by their conduct inside.

 I think that’s a stall we can all get into.

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