PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers have jumped in to the national debate over the
rights of transgender people.
A bill is being debated Wednesday that would make
it illegal for people to use public restrooms not associated with their birth
Advocates said the measure would be the toughest standard in the nation for
transgender people and bathroom use, requiring Arizona residents to use the
restroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate.
One local TV station has
dubbed it the “Show Me Your Papers Before You Go Potty” bill, a reference to
the Arizona Legislature’s sweeping 2010 immigration law.
Despite a growing
number of people identifying as transgender, the delicate issue of what kind of restroom can be accessed by men and women presenting as a gender
other than what they were born remains largely unexplored.
Transgender people have successfully sued businesses that didn’t provide equal
access to public facilities under state and local anti-discrimination bans that
include gender identity.
State and local governments are increasingly adding gender identity to
anti-discrimination bans to ward off legal battles.
Opponents and proponents alike complain that the laws
don’t explicitly demand businesses provide equal access for transgender people,
creating confusion over how governments, restaurants, clothing stores and other
establishments must act.
In recent weeks, Massachusetts and California took steps to clarify such laws
and ensure equal access for transgender students to gender-segregated
Phoenix passed a human rights ordinance last month prohibiting
gender identity discrimination at public accommodations.
“If you look like a man and you live your life like a man, you should be able
to use a man’s bathroom,” said Dru Levasseur, a transgender rights attorney for
Lambda Legal, a national gay advocacy group based in New York. “It’s just
In Arizona prominent GOP Rep. John
Kavanagh said he was outraged by Phoenix’s effort to increase protections for
His proposed law would make it a misdemeanor for a person to use a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room
associated with a gender other than what’s on his or her birth certificate.
An Arizona House of Representatives committee is scheduled to consider the bill on
Kavanagh said government shouldn’t allow people to use facilities based on
“you are what you think you are.” He said he was worried Phoenix’s
anti-discrimination ban would serve as a cover for pedophiles who want to expose
themselves to children of the opposite gender.
“This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are
women,” he said. “For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable
just makes no sense.”
Police officers would be able to make judgment calls about when to press
charges when, for example, a woman uses a men’s bathroom to avoid a long line, Kavanagh
Masen Davis, executive director for the Transgender Law Center in San
Francisco, said businesses have generally been more active than governments in
recognizing equal access rights for transgender people, in some cases to avoid
Davis said Arizona’s proposed ban would target people who look different, regardless if they are transgender or not.
“No one should have to live in a world where they have to show their papers to
pee,” Davis said.
The term transgender covers men and women whose identity does not match with
their birth-assigned sex, including cross-dressers and people who don’t want to
alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.
Transgender people often have a hard time changing the gender on a birth
certificate because many states require proof of gender treatment surgery, which
is expensive and often not covered by health insurance.
Some states, including
Idaho and Ohio, do not allow birth certificate changes for gender, according to
the American Civil Liberties Union.
Equal access debates are playing out in states across the country.
Discriminating against transgender people is illegal in at least 16 states. The
protections vary. Minnesota prohibits discrimination in employment, housing,
education and public accommodations, while Hawaii’s law only applies to housing,
according to the ACLU.
More than 100 cities and counties have passed laws prohibiting gender-identity
discrimination, including Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas. Those laws are also
For example, Baltimore County approved a measure in 2012 protecting
transgender people from discrimination. It did not apply to “distinctly
private or personal” facilities.
Tennessee lawmakers tried going in the other
direction with a proposal similar to Arizona’s in 2012, but it failed to gain
Some state laws are being tested in court. In one case, a Colorado family filed
a complaint with the state’s civil rights office after their first-grader, who
was born a boy, was prohibited from using the girl’s bathroom at the child’s elementary
Opponents to equal access laws insist they do not want to discriminate against
any groups, but simply value public safety for the majority over transgender
Some fret the anti-discriminatory laws will force businesses to spend many
dollars on renovation projects in order to provide unisex facilities and avoid
complaints from customers who don’t want to share bathrooms and dressing rooms
with transgender people.
They said Arizona’s proposed law would instead protect
businesses from bogus complaints from people who aren’t transgender.
“Someone can just say ‘Oh, I feel like I am a woman,’ ” said Aaron Baer, a
spokesman for the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful conservative group.
“That person can just say, ‘You are discriminating against me.’ ”