I felt the need to weigh in on this controversial subject as soon as I heard about the new laws passed in North Carolina’s House Bill 2. For those of you, perhaps living in a different part of the world, who have missed the furore arising from this legislation, let me explain. North Carolina’s legislature took it upon themselves to pass a law making it mandatory for its citizens only to use public bathrooms designated for their anatomical gender of birth. The implication of this ruling was clearly designed to target transgender people wishing to use a bathroom associated with the gender with which they most strongly identify. My immediate reaction to this development was to recall the discriminatory bathrooms of the apartheid era in South Africa, which I witnessed first hand on visits in the 80’s. The exclusion of people of color from ‘white only’ bathrooms was apparently a feature of the deep south in the US not so many decades ago. For the record, it is important to point out here that the law only applies to state owned bathrooms and not public bathrooms associated with private businesses.
But, to be fair, what were the salient reasons for passing such a law, and do they stand up to scrutiny? Or is there another agenda at work here, and if so, what is it? From all the research I have been able to do on what has become a ‘hot topic’ in the news feeds, it seems the predominant reason for this bill, presented by those in favor, is the protection of the general public from sexual predators and perverts able to operate in an inappropriate environment, i.e. a bathroom reserved for the ‘opposite sex’. The other reason seems to revolve around a socially conservative agenda adopting a ‘bunker’ mentality when it comes to recognizing the shift in definition of gender roles. As one commentator observed, ‘the train has already left the station’, and North Carolina’s stance simply highlights a rather old fashioned clinging to ‘Christian’ morals and social mores that are clearly not shared by a majority of the population of the US.
First of all, the argument that preserving birth sex only bathrooms provides protection against the actions of sexual predators seems, on the face of it, an admirable measure. However, on further reflection, it seems to me that the issue we are dealing with here is the act of sexual predation, whether male or female and involving either gender. What is to stop a man preying on young boys or indeed a woman doing the same with her own sex? I am as keen as anyone to see the devastating effects of such abuse diminished, and the law, medical profession, social workers etc., who deal with such abuse should receive maximum support for anything that will help in this respect. However, it seems the incidence of transgender people being involved in such activities is virtually zero, and paradoxically, it is the transgender community who face far more abuse and even violent discrimination rather than the other way round.
Whilst I respect the social conservative fear of an erosion of so called ‘moral values’, the concern I have over this stance is this recurring theme of control over those who don’t agree or conform to their version of human behaviour. I have seen the same attitude expressed towards the gay community with the desire to use legislation to prevent gay marriage. I understand that some parents just don’t want to explain to their 7 year old daughter why a person with a beard is in the ladies bathroom. But, whilst respecting those who wish to maintain more traditional values, there is no room for condemning or discriminating against those who choose otherwise. And, we cannot bury our heads in the sand for ever. Surely it would be better to explain to those who are growing up what the world really looks like and how a culture of tolerance and acceptance would go far in enhancing the world they are likely to grow up in. I might not understand why someone chooses to reject their anatomical birth gender and prefer to associate with the opposite sex, but the fact is, this is not as rare as many might think. It is also a dangerous throw back to darker days of discrimination, when any minority gender, race, religion or sexual persuasion are forced to conform to the wishes of those who secretly disapprove and seek to control them through force of targeted legislation.