What’s really at the heart of the N.C. transgender fight?

Proponents of a new state law that restricts transgender bathroom use and pre-empts local governments from creating their own anti-discrimination policies, at a rally outside the the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, April 11. (Ray Whitehouse / The New York Times)

Proponents of a law that restricts transgender bathroom use and pre-empts local governments from creating their own anti-discrimination policies, at a rally outside the the North Carolina State Capitol, April 11. (Ray Whitehouse / The New York Times)

Watching the fallout in North Carolina from afar has been instructive.

For one, the economic consequences for a law that, among other things, bars local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances range from the mostly symbolic (a canceled Bruce Springsteen concert) to the significant (the loss of job-creating investments by companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank). The threats we heard in Georgia regarding House Bill 757, which didn’t go nearly as far but was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal, apparently weren’t idle ones.

It has also been illuminating to watch reactions to a provision of the law not considered here: requiring people to use public restrooms based on their gender at birth.

I haven’t counted headlines, but much discussion of the law, both positive and negative, has focused on the transgender bathroom issue. What’s fascinating is how, even more than in Georgia’s religious-liberty debate, people are talking past one another.

To the law’s opponents, the bathrooms bit is just one more indication of the “bigotry” of some people, who need to get over themselves and get with the times.

But I don’t hear a lot of complaints from the law’s supporters that transgender people are icky, or something. What I hear are worries women and girls will be in danger from some men — all too willing to identify with some of the worst male impulses — who take advantage of the ambiguity created by new bathroom policies.

In other words, the problem is less about transgender persons than those who would exploit laws intended to help them.

The hearing given to these concerns has been, shall we say, less than sympathetic. It boils down to: That doesn’t happen. In fact, a guidebook on the issue by the Transgender Law Center, “Peeing in Peace,” basically suggests a) women’s rooms weren’t safe before, and b) “minor discomfort” by those wary of new arrangements “is a small price to pay.”

There are two problems with the “don’t worry” response, besides the question of why some people’s discomfort is more important than others’. First, experience with such laws is relatively limited in both time and geography. If they become more prevalent, the results could change. (Ironically, this is basically one of the arguments by LGBT advocates against expanded religious-liberty measures in Georgia.)

Second, that response just isn’t true. In February, a man making no attempt to identify as a woman cited gender-identity protections after disrobing in a women’s restroom at a public swimming pool in Seattle. In October, the University of Toronto scaled back its policy of “gender neutral bathrooms” after two women reported incidents of cellphone-camera voyeurism.

(Speaking of colleges, and irony: U.S. colleges have been embracing gender-neutral bathrooms, despite such safety risks, at the same time the Obama administration has become so intent on reducing campus sexual assaults and harassment it has issued regulations that curtail due process for accused male students.)

But back to the North Carolina law. It should be possible to address the plight of transgender persons without making women feel more vulnerable. That would, however, require concessions not just by the state’s legislators but by those too busy yelling “bigot” to address even legitimate concerns.

If there can be no compromise on even an issue like this, we can pretty much flush the notion of self-government.

Reader Comments 0

91 comments
Collin Merenoff
Collin Merenoff

Identity Politics has been impeding the Left in its struggle for equality, to the delight of the Right. Now that the Left is starting to come to its senses and abandon Identity Politics, the Right has concocted this issue to force the Left to use the word "identify" in order to affirm human rights. There is only one solution. We must find a new phrase to replace "gender identity".

C_Casselberry
C_Casselberry

The data shows that the risks to young boys in the Catholic Church, while in church, exceed the risks you cite in bathrooms. Yet, no outcry from alleged christians. Curious no?

Starik
Starik

What a waste of time.  Can't we (and the legislature) worry about something that really matters?  We have "religious liberty."  Everybody excretes pee and poop.  If somebody commits a crime in a public bathroom, male, female or transgender, call the police.

Bobbie Jo Justice
Bobbie Jo Justice

The phrase in this country is LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, and not liberty and justice, but only for white, heterosexual "christians".

If it was really about protecting the precious kiddies, then they would ban catholic priests from using public bathrooms, and they would also eliminate all sports to prevent another possible version of the penn state sex scandal. .

Just once I would like to see christians procliam "religious liberty" to help feed the hungry or help the homeless. Instead they use it to deny marriage equality and police public toilets.

My thoughts on these various bathroom bills being introduced by the "we want less government" republicans.
To me, the only agreeable solution is that people need to get their head out of their a**es, realize this is the year 2016, transgender people exist, and have existed since the beginning of time. In fact, if you really consider the adam and eve bible story, then eve was obviously a transsexual female, since she was made from adam's rib, and therefore had some of adam's dna. Don't mention that one to a christian, it makes their head explode.The main problem with all of these bathroom bills is that it is all just a fallacy. It's all a farce. No thought was given as to how to police any of it. It was simply a bill to "fix" a perceived problem which doesn't exist. How in the hell are these idiots going to enforce it? Is that the gop's new jobs plan....to create thousands of jobs as the potty police? Are they going to have bathroom attendants at sports stadiums, concert stadiums, interstate rest areas, public parks, convenience stores, malls, etc? Then they said you have to use the bathroom of your assigned gender at birth. Well, let's all see a show of hands of everyone who carries their birth certificate with them everyday. I bet the number of hands raised on that one is zero. (not to mention those transgender people that have already changed the gender on their birth certificate).
This was all in response to the christian reich's panic over transgender people. Anyone who isn't white, christian and heterosexual causes the establishment to panic. The establishment quite frankly needs to have its head bashed in, perhaps another "civil" war is in order since the idiots in the south didn't seem to remember their lesson from the last butt-kicking they received. .......... ............................................ and as I posted on my timeline. I have heard numerous morons say that these bathroom bills are being introduced to "protect" children. I swear, people in America must be the most idiotic bunch of morons on this planet.
Here is what I have to say to those idiotic morons.
Gee, we should make rape, murder and assault illegal, why hasn't anyone ever thought of that? Someone should have made breaking into peoples homes, kidnapping and murdering children illegal, it might have saved 9 year old Jessica Lunsford in Florida. Now, can someone please remind me how well criminals obey laws. Are people that deaf, dumb and stupid that they think making a law is going to stop a criminal? The only thing that these transgender bathroom bills do is to harass transgender people. They do NOTHING about making anyone safer.

Juicy
Juicy

I guess there isn't an answer.

bu22
bu22

David Brooks editorial in today's AJC ties in nicely with Kyle's.  He suggests the move from self-sacrifice to individualism after WWII and disengagement from local institutions has contributed to the problems.  And its not identity politics, but politics as your identity that makes compromise impossible.  So you can't fix politics without fixing society. 

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Wouldn't it be great to hear Hillary and Bernie answer a question about men using women's bathrooms in tonight's debate?

Juicy
Juicy

Could this also be at the heart of the bill?

The second part of the bill is referred to as the Wage and Hour Act. Under the act, local governments would be prohibited from setting their own local minimum wage.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

State governments have an interest in creating an environment conducive to commerce, including uniform wage laws throughout the state.

Now, if you want to object to one-size-fits-all legislation, perhaps you'd like to discuss Obozocare.

Starik
Starik

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Obama is a step toward what this country needs, single payer government administered health insurance. It is flawed, but it's the best we could get given the influence of all the entities who get rich on the current system.

Juicy
Juicy

"State governments have an interest in creating an environment conducive to commerce."

I'm glad they are open for business.

I just want to know how "uniform wage laws throughout the state" affects religious liberty and/or LGBT rights.

Juicy
Juicy

How does minimum wage factor in to all of this?

Minimum wage has nothing to do with religion or gender. It affects everyone. If you are for this bill you are against raising the minimum wage too? Am I reading this correctly?

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

So the heart of the problem is that social conservative men are concerned for women and girls using restrooms that only have stalls, with transgendered men who act, dress, and consider themselves females?  But is o.k. for transgendered women to use the men's restroom that have urinals.  


I would be more afraid of how transgendered men would be treated social conservative males in the men's room. The heart of the problem is another social conservative morality bill looking for a problem.

DerekGator
DerekGator

This law is only about hate, there is no bathroom problem.  They have been peeing where they want for years and nobody knew, why make a law?

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Why make a law? That would be a good question, but not one to ask Real Americans, since it's liberal fascists in Houston, Charlotte, and elsewhere who got this kicked off--by passing a law.

GB101
GB101

@DerekGator If you believe there is no bathroom problem what was the aim of the Charlotte ordinance?

TicTacs
TicTacs

The court will decide, then we abide.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

The people, through their elected representatives, already decided.

And Real Americans decided decades ago that restrooms for men and women should be separate.

oldpunk
oldpunk

You gave an example of a man who wasn't transgender claiming transgender protection. You couldn't find a *single* instance of an actual transgender person sexually assaulting someone in the bathroom of the sex they identify with? I thought Republicans were against unnecessary regulation.

72DCSD99
72DCSD99

@Kyle_Wingfield @oldpunk Good points.  But, just asking then; was this law necessary at all?

Take it out of the bathroom for a minute.  I would think women and girls should be more concerned about being assaulted or harmed by someone on the street.  The "hey, little girl, do you want some candy?" thing.  That has happened a lot.  Look at the history.  How many guys when they are caught admit they just snatched some 7 year old off the street.  Look at Bundy.  He conned women who were adults.  The caution is caution everywhere, all the time.  Not fear of every shadow, but honest caution.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@oldpunk "You couldn't find a *single* instance of an actual transgender person sexually assaulting someone in the bathroom of the sex they identify with?"

Nor did I look for one, because as you would know if you read the column, I never said that's what people are afraid will happen. On the contrary, what I wrote was:

"What I hear are worries women and girls will be in danger from some men — all too willing to identify with some of the worst male impulses — who take advantage of the ambiguity created by new bathroom policies.

"In other words, the problem is less about transgender persons than those who would exploit laws intended to help them."

bu22
bu22

@oldpunk You understand this is about liberal governments telling businesses that they have to let men use women's restrooms and women use men's restrooms if they so choose or the government will go after them.

bu22
bu22

@oldpunk If they left the bathroom bit out, there would not have been a backlash against their bills.

TicTacs
TicTacs

The heart of the matter is sour grapes,  pure and simple.  They won't get the worms back in the can.

Cobbian
Cobbian

While the bathroom issue is one that needs to be dealt with, it is not, to my mind, the primary issue.  The primary issue was in not allowing local jurisdictions - towns and counties - to pass non-discrimination provisions governing local business, housing, etc.


The problem with the way the transgender bathroom issue was handled is that it did not handle the problem.  I may not know the answer, but what the legislature did, in directing that gender is what one is born with, denies the very issue that transgender people are trying to make known - some people are born with one gender physically but psychologically/mentally they are of the other gender.  

In other words, the legislature screwed up on bathrooms for transgender and on forbidding local jurisdictions to ban discrimination against lgbt people.  The legislature and the governor are rightly being shown for the idiots they are.


the governor had a chance to lead and he failed.  Here is hoping he won't be re-elected.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The whole no men in women's showers thing is just them trying to thread the needle on this issue


So they can discriminate more broadly. 

bu22
bu22

It just amazes me how nobody ever talks about the obvious. A lot (and probably the overwhelming majority) don't want to be using the restroom with a member of the opposite sex.  It goes beyond predators.  I know I always felt uncomfortable when women came into the men's restrooms at sports stadiums back in the day when there wasn't "bathroom equality."  So do we violate the privacy of most for a handful of people who aren't satisfied with the body they were born with?

Pickle7
Pickle7

@xxxzzz You do realize you've probably shared a public bathroom with transgender people countless times in your life and not realized it?  And it wasn't a problem then and isn't a problem now?  And that it is still illegal to rape or assault or film someone going to the bathroom against their will?

bu22
bu22

@Pickle7 @xxxzzz Countless times?  Get serious.  And if so, then why change the law to allow it if its "not a problem."

Pickle7
Pickle7

@xxxzzz @Pickle7 People aren't protesting to "change the law to allow it", they are protesting to prevent a law that makes it illegal.  YOUR side introduced the law, not the LGBT activists.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Pickle7 "YOUR side introduced the law, not the LGBT activists."

Actually, in the case of N.C. this all started with a Charlotte ordinance that, in part, concerned transgender persons in bathrooms.

Pickle7
Pickle7

@Kyle_Wingfield @Pickle7 So a city easily passes an ordinance to prevent discrimination (7-4 vote), and in response the state general assembly calls an emergency session and shotgun passes a law to prevent the city ... from itself???

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Pickle7 I didn't defend the law, I just pointed out that you had the cause-and-effect wrong.

bu22
bu22

@Kyle_Wingfield @Pickle7 Its not.  He's analyzing why its getting so divisive.  Houston's anti-discrimination ordinance wasn't divisive at first.  Then people figured out about the bathroom issue and the mayor started doing subpoenas on ministers trying to get their sermons and their e-mails.  And the mayor refused to cut out the bathroom part of the bill.  Meanwhile, she can't even fix the potholes in the Montrose, the most heavily gay area in Houston.  Practically broke an axle driving through there.

GB101
GB101

@Pickle7 @Kyle_Wingfield You and others seem to think it is unusual (and worse) for a state to mandate what a city can and cannot do.  There is nothing at all exceptional about this.  Cities are creatures of the state.  

72DCSD99
72DCSD99

Are any of you going to let a true hermaphrodite use any bathroom?

mar1049
mar1049

@72DCSD99 Okay just how do you know someone is a true hermaphrodite or anything else. Do you take it upon yourself to go in with the a check?

72DCSD99
72DCSD99

@mar1049 @72DCSD99 You don't.  And that's part of the situation.  Just because some born male person isn't wearing a dress doesn't mean that person isn't transgender.  Some people here don't want someone in the head unless it's the gender they were born with.  How do they answer the question of someone born with both?  Answer?  They have no answer.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

I always feel the heart of these LGBT issues is the disapproval of the homosexual lifestyle as immoral or sinful. Thats the disagreement that needs attention. Everything else will fall into place.


This abuse of bathroom issue is similar to the "if we allow gay marriage, whats next. Bestiality" argument. The abuse of marriage or bathroom is a problem only to the people who are against the homosexual lifestyle.

bu22
bu22

@McGarnagle I think the big disputes are because of the feeling of being disapproved by the LGBT community.  That makes them incapable of seeing other's points of view or compromising.

MarkVV
MarkVV

The arguments for “the transgender bathroomlaw” about some people falsely using gender identity protection for voyeurism or exposure are as phony as most of the other arguments for discrimination against the LGBT. If the law against the bathroom use by transgender people will be on the books, what will people seeing a transgression do? The will call the police! So why can’t they do the same in the absence of the law if they suspect real voyeurism or exposure?  

TicTacs
TicTacs

Self inflicted problem caused by republicans.  

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

We were just minding our own business until you nut jobs started dreaming up ways to force your various mental defects on us.

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

Maybe we'll see a switch to lots of little one-at-a-time public restrooms. Discrimination by those in the business of public accommodation, I hope we can agree, is still unacceptable.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

And your suggestion won't be embraced by the leftards. It isn't about equality, it's about annoying the normal.

Mr_B
Mr_B

@Lil_Barry_Bailout You don't seem to have much experience cleaning public restrooms. Ladies rooms are always the worst.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

My wife and daughters cringe at using unisex bathrooms, as they're usually worse than women's bathrooms.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@DaltonbywayofBickley "Maybe we'll see a switch to lots of little one-at-a-time public restrooms."

If I had to predict what will end up happening, that'd be it.