Boys and girls bathroom complexities leave schools, communities struggling for answers
Posted April 12, 2016
The gender wars have hit bathrooms in America's colleges and public schools. This is not boys vs. girls: it's the redefinition of the idea of gender segregation in public spaces where biology is hardest to hide from.
Supporters see bathroom gender neutrality as critical to mainstreaming transgender adults and children, who may feel uncomfortable in bathrooms assigned to a particular gender.
Critics see the new policies as threatening privacy and safety, particularly of women and girls, who may now be exposed to predators lurking in bathrooms, taking advantage of laws that allow men to use women's bathrooms at will without demonstrating transgender status.
The disputes are not going to recede anytime soon.
The latest blow in the battle — not centered in schools, but drawing them in by implication — happened this week, when PayPal canceled a planned facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, which would have brought in 400 jobs. The company was responding to a new law that prevents the city of Charlotte from requiring businesses to allow men to enter women's restrooms, showers or locker rooms at will.
Last week, New York's Cooper Union, a privately operated college, announced that it would no longer recognize gender in bathrooms. Any student is now free to use any bathroom, with single stall restrooms being provided for those uncomfortable with the new policy.
Bathrooms will "no longer be owned by a specific gender," Cooper Union President Bill Mea wrote in an email to the campus at large. "I also ask that none of us practice gender policing, where we attempt to restrict someone from using the same restroom we are using or make them feel uncomfortable for doing so. If you feel uncomfortable sharing a restroom, then the single-occupancy restrooms will now be available to you."
Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Education announced proposed "voluntary guidance" that encourages public schools to take several steps to mainstream transgender students, including calling them by their preferred names and pronouns and letting them use whichever bathroom they prefer, without requiring any input from a parent or doctor.
“The responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student. Outside confirmation from medical or mental health professionals, or documentation of legal changes, is not needed,” the guidance states, according to the The Greenville (Michigan) Daily News.
New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio also just issued an edict that allows anyone to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity without showing any documentation. According the ABC7.com report, the rule applies to "city offices, public parks, playgrounds, pools, recreation centers and certain museums. It doesn't require agencies to build new single-stall restroom or locker room facilities, but instead enforces that all individuals, including those who are transgender or gender non-conforming, are free to use single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity."
The pressure on North Carolina grew strong enough that last week Gov. Pat McCrory issued a FAQs statement explaining what the bill does and doesn't do, which was published by the local Fox8.com new site.
"This ordinance would have eliminated the basic expectations of privacy people have when using the restroom by allowing people to use the restroom of their choice," McCrory wrote. "This new local regulation brought up serious privacy concerns by parents, businesses and others across the state, as well as safety concerns that this new local rule could be used by people who would take advantage of this to do harm to others."
Meanwhile, the disputes and confusion also bubbled up in a Seattle public swimming pool in February. There, a man twice in one day walked into a locker room full of young women changing. He apparently was trying to make a point, and did not actually consider himself to be transgender.
Like most of the new ordinances and rules, the Seattle law does not require a bathroom user to demonstrate that their gender identity differs from their evident biology. Mere assertion is sufficient.
This has some critics concerned. “We’re not here saying that the transgendered community are predators,” a woman who was a victim of sexual assault told KING-5 TV, “We will never say that because we don’t believe that. What we do believe is that this code is so poorly written that predators will abuse. We know it because we have lived it."