Editorial: Transgender ‘bathroom bill’ merits passage, and a civility reminder

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Yes, we’re going there today. We’re going to the bathroom.

It’s understandable that many feel apprehensive about the prospect of people using the public restroom of the gender with which they identify rather than the gender with which they were born.

It’s an odd idea, to many — certainly a modern issue, and a situation that for most people is seldom encountered.

But people who belong to that minority group should be allowed to use the restroom of their gender identity. Most of the rest of us can and should learn to adjust to this.

We urge the state’s public accommodations bill [the Senate version is here] to get unstuck from House-Senate joint committee limbo.

It should be passed by the legislators, signed by the governor and become law, completing the work the state took up when it passed legislation in 2011 protecting transgender individuals from discrimination in such areas as employment and housing.

The proposal covers restaurants, malls and other public accommodations as well as public restrooms, but it is the restroom piece that is generating the most talk and pushback.

Although this is new territory and uncomfortable to some degree for just about everyone, it is the right thing to do in a country that has built so much of its greatness on tolerance and inclusion.

A small percentage of people are transgender. That is, they identify as the opposite gender to their biological profile. This article in the New York Times refers to a 2012 study that posits 0.5 percent of Massachusetts residents identify as transgender.

In recent years, Americans, with the help of researchers and advocates, have come a long way in accepting this as genuine. Similarly, gays and lesbians have made tremendous gains in being considered, as they deserve, people first, their sexual orientation somewhere lower on the list of traits that help define them.

It’s time to turn the key a little farther. Don’t just accept that some people are transgender. Respect those same people.

Though we could harbor the idea that a transgender person of the opposite sex entering “our” bathroom is making a political statement, that person’s priority is surely as basic and mundane as everyone else’s there at that moment.

And though we might fear that a transgender person or transgender-pretender wants to ogle or even attack women or children — other men, even — we must understand that possibility is remote. Transgender people are, like the rest of us, not usually people to be suspicious of or feared.

There is always a chance of encountering improper, illegal or threatening behaviors, in restrooms and everywhere else. Laws and other protections ought to and would come down just as hard on transgender people as anyone else in the event of menacing, disrupting or criminal acts.

This proposed legislation simply answers the question of whether a transgender person has a lawful right to be in the bathroom of his or her choice. Passing it is a way of society behaving civilly to people who identify as transgender. It is obviously expected that they behave courteously as well.

We could continue to insist that transgender people use the bathroom that matches their biology. They would retain that option if the public accommodations bill is passed, of course, and probably many would choose to keep going to the bathroom they’ve always used.

But if a male transgender person, for instance, were to push open the door of the women’s restroom — once this is allowed in Massachusetts — remember that the person is actually identifying as female. Remember, too, that the person probably feels awkward at first, as will the other occupants of the restroom.

As with most things new and strange, though, the public can get past this.

Once the law is established, people will become used to the idea that — as rare an occurrence as it might be — it is legal for a transgender person to peacefully be there in their bathroom. That male-bodied person, for instance, who identifies as female, who dresses as a woman and who behaves as a woman, hopefully will be accepted as woman, at least for the space of time it takes to visit a stall, wash one’s hands and comb one’s hair.

With the growing awareness and acceptance of transgender people, a changeover to the bathroom that matches identity rather than biology, while likely slow and difficult, is inevitable.

This measure should pass. Civility and mutual respect — not insults and not shouting down and not booing our elected officials — ought to reign while it is being debated, as well as once it passes or fails.

We do generally experience civility in public restrooms, at least. People don’t really want to be there with strangers, let alone transgender people, but they mind their own business, allow others the right-of-way at the sinks and towel dispensers, and generally get the heck out of there with everyone’s dignity intact.

Making state law kinder and fairer won’t, by and large, change the overall private experience of using the public restroom.

We do not, however, support allowing people who identify as transgender into opposite-sex locker rooms or other places where people change clothes in the open or take showers. Where nudity is involved, segregating by anatomy is the natural and comfortable dividing line. The final version of the proposed legislation should, we believe, permit gender separation in settings where undress or partial undress is the norm.

As Massachusetts weighs this “bathroom bill” — similar bills have been passed in more than a dozen states; and two, North Carolina and Georgia, face widespread condemnation for restricting access for transgendered people — we praise, meanwhile, the simplicity of the solution cropping up in many places: those gender-neutral, single-person (or one family at a time) bathrooms.

Those brainchilds get no argument from anyone, accommodating people with all kinds of needs and situations.

One of those needs is to just use the bathroom. Just plain old, blessedly pop into the bathroom without regard to any label except the one everyone can identify with: “Unoccupied.”

One thought on “Editorial: Transgender ‘bathroom bill’ merits passage, and a civility reminder

  1. Sorry, I disagree. I don’t wish harm to them, but anyone can say they are transgender and enter my space as a woman. I have rights as well and I want them to be equally respected.

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