Political Focus: five states enter new year with ‘bathroom bills’

In the first days of 2017, five states have introduced new legislation limiting access to public bathrooms to the gender assigned at birth, not preferred gender identity. The “bathroom bills” fuel the debate surrounding transgender rights.

North Carolina is the only state to bring this bill to law, and it has done so at a cost. As CNN reports, the bill “has caused huge economic losses for the state, such as businesses cancelling plans to expand and the NBA moving its All-Star game from Charlotte to another city.”

However, this has not deterred the states of Minnesota, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas and Virginia from making moves to adopt similar legislation.

Why would legislators call for such a law?

The argument in favor of these laws focuses on privacy. As now-former Governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory explained, “Legislation was passed to protect men, women and children when they use a public restroom, shower or locker room. That is an expectation of privacy that must be honored and respected.”

There is also a necessary discussion over the possibility of someone with bad intentions gaining access to the bathroom of the opposite sex by claiming that is their gender identification. The laws aim to protect against that situation.

Why has there been backlash?

The laws are seen by many to be blatant acts of discrimination. In North Carolina, activists took to the streets to protest and businesses released condemnations of the law. Some organizations have stated they will have the same response if the bills become law in the additional states where the bill is up for consideration.

The NCAA and certain conferences have said they will move their events from states that pass the legislation, following the lead of the NBA last year in North Carolina.

Though some argue that laws would protect bathroom-users against people sneaking into the opposite gender’s bathroom with bad intentions, there have been no such incidents in states without laws preventing people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

Additionally, sexual assault is still illegal.

What’s to come?

The bills are in direct opposition with the guidance put out last May by the Obama Administration regarding this issue in public schools. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice sent a letter to the schools noting the importance of transgender students having a nondiscriminatory education experience.

Though the letter served as a guideline with no legal binding attached, it did threaten to pull federal funding from school districts that didn’t abide. The letter struck several lawsuits, one of which has made its way to the Supreme Court.

The case concerns Gavin Grimm, a transgender male high school student from Virginia. While his principal allowed him to use the men’s bathroom, the school board changed its policy to require students to use the bathroom of their biological sex. Grimm is suing the school board, and the case has made climbed the court system ladder through the appeals process.

The SCOTUS is expected to hear the case in April and make a decision in June. Grimm’s case is specific to bathroom bills in education settings; however, the decision will presumably have major impact on these bills in other settings, as well as transgender rights in general.