There is a war being waged. And it’s over… bathrooms? The context may seem comical, but the consequences are not.
The Departments of Justice and Education recently rescinded guidance to schools that protected transgender students from gender discrimination under a major federal nondiscrimination law, Title IX. The guidance had allowed students to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. The new guidance forces students to use facilities aligned with their sex assigned at birth.
Neither guidance is law. They are interpretations of the law without binding effect. The Supreme Court will decide later this year whether discrimination based on gender identity violates Title IX. The case is scheduled to be argued before the Court on March 28.
Supporters of laws that forbid transgender people from using bathrooms and other facilities aligned with their gender identity, commonly referred to as “bathroom bills”, claim that the laws will “protect” people from “sexual predators”. The thing is, there are exactly zero cases of transgender people harassing others in bathrooms. And there is no evidence that people are using non-discrimination laws to dress up as the opposite sex to commit assault either. Lawmakers are waging a war against a problem that doesn’t exist, and the costs are high.
Take North Carolina for example. After passing its bathroom bill in 2016, hundreds of businesses and cities responded, banning travel to the state, canceling planned business expansions, and urging repeal of the law. The NBA even pulled its All-Star Game from the state. A report from the UCLA Williams Institute calculated that the bill could cost North Carolina $5 billion a year from lost business investment, reduced tourism, and lost productivity. Texas, which is considering its own bathroom bill, is estimated to lose up to $8.5 billion and 185,000 jobs if the legislation passes. That’s a lot of money to lose over a problem that doesn’t exist.
A large majority of Americans recognize this. A recent poll by a nonpartisan organization found that 72% of people support LGBT protections against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations such as restrooms, and housing. This sentiment may be one of the reasons that the Republican governor who brought a bathroom bill to North Carolina was unseated in 2016, which was a Republican-leaning year.
Why does it even matter which bathroom a transgender person uses? Laws based on fear promote discrimination and fuel harassment and violence against transgender people. Seventy percent of transgender people report being denied entrance, assaulted or harassed while trying to use a restroom. And those who are denied access to facilities that match their gender identity report a higher number of lifetime suicide attempts. This is a problem that actually exists.
It’s time for the idea of discriminatory bathroom bills to be flushed.
Rosie Mae Henson, MPH, a 2016 graduate of the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, works for the School's Urban Health Collaborative.
Have a health care question or frustration? Share your story »
Read more of Health Cents »