Ask any parent of a young child, and they’ll tell you that access to public restrooms is a big deal. Our tots seem to have a sixth sense about the most inconvenient time to get the urge (halfway across the mall from the restroom, say). The idea of having my access to a restroom questioned—both for me personally and as a parent—is repellant. I’ve tried to keep that in mind as a cisgender woman thinking about what’s happening in North Carolina.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has signed one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the country. It requires schools and public agencies to limit use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms based on people’s biological sex, and replaces local non-discrimination ordinances with those of the state, which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
North Carolina is not alone, however. Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin all have introduced bills that base bathroom access on biological sex.
We need to make sure that in our equality battles today, the far right doesn’t again come to own the “think of the children” argument.
The fact is that “bathroom bills” impact both transgender adults and children, as well as the children of transgender parents. The exact number of transgender children and youth is unknown, but at least thousands across the country seems likely, based on the 700,000 transgender adults estimated by UCLA’s Williams Institute. Transgender students are more likely than others to experience a hostile school environment, according to GLSEN’s 2013 School Climate Survey—and such a climate can lead to lower GPAs, lower self-esteem, and higher rates of depression and leaving school.
Among transgender adults in the U.S., somewhere between 175,000 and 350,000 are parents, according to the Williams Institute. The few studies that looked at how many were living with children, it says, give estimates from 2.5 to 33 percent, or 17,500 to 231,000. Determining those who have small children (who are likely to need to go into restrooms with their parents) is harder. “Thousands” again seems a vague but perhaps reasonable estimate, especially if we throw in trans grandparents helping with babysitting duty.
It’s bad enough that a transgender person might be stopped upon entering a restroom; imagine a small child with them squealing, “I gotta go,” and the situation deepens. Is this really what the North Carolina governor and the Republican legislators who voted for their bill want? (All the Democrats walked out.) Fine. They can clean up the messes.
And lest cisgender people think only transgender people will be impacted, consider how the state will enforce the law. Will anyone whose gender isn’t immediately apparent be asked to provide documentation when they or their kids need to pee?
North Carolina is already feeling the repercussions of its new law, including a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina; restrictions on government travel to North Carolina by Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Minnesota, New York State, and Vermont, as of this writing; and a boycott by “dozens” of customers of the High Point Market home furnishings trade show, the largest economic event in the state. The law still stands, however.
It is not trans people’s responsibility alone to respond to the North Carolina law or similar bills in other states, even though these laws predominantly target them. Indeed, the removal of non-discrimination protections by North Carolina impacts all LGBTQ people—and the bathroom rules affect anyone, LGBTQ or not, who is gender nonconforming or even occasionally ambiguous.
Cisgender people must be good allies, however. We must listen to the many different voices of trans people in developing strategies to counter the law. Informed by their perspectives, we must persuade our friends, colleagues, and elected officials to oppose “bathroom bills” and support trans- and LGBQ-inclusive non-discrimination laws.
As a parent, moving in parenting circles, I find it useful to talk about young trans people prevented from using the bathrooms that match their identified genders, or to paint the picture of a trans parent trying to supervise their just-trained four-year-old in the restroom. Finding points of connection helps in building bridges. And as I’ve said above, the impact on children will likely be a talking point on the far right. We can’t concede that argument to them.
This isn’t going to be a quick win. It’s going to take a concerted effort of awareness, education, and advocacy. I am not in a position to say exactly what needs to be done—but I do know we’ll need to do it together, thinking of the children.