Skirting the Issues: Bathrooms and Boardrooms

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

There are two kinds of rooms where business gets done: bathrooms and boardrooms. This is about both.
As I pen this column in mid-March, there are at least four state legislatures debating bills that would ban a transgender person from accessing public restrooms according to his or her gender identity. (Reminder: “gender identity,” as contrasted with “gender assigned at birth,” aligns with a trans person’s “true” gender — hence while I was born with male parts, my true gender is actually female.)

Thus, there’s a bill in Florida that started out banning every gender variant person from any public restroom; it also imposed both criminal and civil penalties for those who violate the ban. The proposed law was later amended to allow public restroom access to trans persons whose gender identities match government-issued documents, like a driver’s license or U.S. passport.

That’s not much consolation for a very feminine-looking thirteen-year-old trans girl who wants to visit Disney World with her family — if the legislation becomes law, absent a passport she’d have to use the men’s restroom at Space Mountain. How ironic when you consider the bill’s purported purpose is to protect people from creepers (with Florida legislators believing trans persons are the creepers).

There’s also pending legislation in Kentucky and Texas (a state where there are presently three different anti-trans bills) which criminalizes trans people who utilize bathrooms consistent with their “true” gender. In fact, one Texas bill makes it a “jail felony” for any business owner who “allows” (this would include unknowingly allowing) a trans person to utilize a “toilet facility” in the owner’s building. Incredibly, the Kentucky bill and another Texas bill also have “bounty” provisions which allow anyone encountering a trans person in a school bathroom or locker room to sue the school district which owns the facility and automatically claim damages of $2500 (Kentucky) or $2000 (Texas).

How do people come up with this kind of stuff? Don’t they have more pressing issues in Florida, Kentucky, and Texas?

Here in Minnesota — where I know we have way more important things to consider — conservative legislators introduced a bill targeting transgender students.

The proposed law, HF 1546, is a twofer: one provision prohibits students of opposite birth genders from competing on the same high school sports team, something that’s intended to nullify a pro-trans policy enacted by the Minnesota State High School League last December. The proposed law’s second part prohibits a public school from permitting a trans kid from using a restroom, locker room, or shower that’s designated for students of the opposite sex. The law defines “sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is genetically determined by a person’s chromosomes and is identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.”

As I write, HF 1546 was denied “fast track” status and I don’t know how the bill will ultimately fare. Many people tell me “no way will it become law.” I’d like to think that; on the other hand, I never imagined that any Minnesota legislator would even introduce such an idiotic bill.

As a Minnesotan, I’m appalled that certain lawmakers (and their religious backers) want to intrude into the lives of young transgender persons. A chromosome test to determine where it’s legal for you to pee? It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damn serious. After all, we’re talking about the lives of people who already are bullied, marginalized, and desperate for acceptance.

Now for the boardroom, that place where another kind of business gets accomplished. Without question, corporate America is taking notice of what various states are attempting to do with criminalizing trans people. They’re already well aware of the fact that same-sex marriage isn’t solving a critical problem: the patchwork of laws that makes it extremely difficult to conduct business with GLBT employees generally.

As reported in a January 27, 2015 blog post by Equality Pennsylvania, the Chambers of Commerce from three of Pennsylvania’s largest cities want across-the-board equal protection for GLBT people. The post quotes Rich Horrow, the President of the Independence Business Alliance, who said, “We have over 250 member businesses and…firmly believe that everyone should be protected from discrimination at work as well as in housing and places of public accommodation. […]The lack of protection is bad for business in the Commonwealth and can cause economic harm, leading to lower economic output for individuals and businesses.”

An executive with Elsevier, a large Philadelphia corporation added, “Elsevier has over 464 employees here in Pennsylvania. We are global leaders in the development and dissemination of scientific, technological, and medical knowledge and we can’t be that without hiring extremely talented and dedicated leaders in those fields. Our employees are the lifeblood of our business. That’s why we do everything we can to provide a welcoming and safe environment at work. Protecting people from discrimination, including people who are gay or transgender, is about treating others as we would want to be treated. “

Sooner or later, dollars will win out over discrimination. I’m certain of it. The real question until then is how many trans people will we lose to suicide or addictions because of the repeated messages that we’re not wanted?

I suspect it will be quite a few, unfortunately.


Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].

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