Saturday, March 26, 2016

On "common sense" and safe, accessible bathrooms for everyone

My brother and I with my daughters at
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC (circa 1997)
As the proud father of two (young adult) daughters I absolutely understand the fear and safety concerns associated with leaving small children unattended in multiple occupancy bathrooms. My own fears and concerns now extend to my daughters' places of employment, the mall, the gym, and the tavern. I still want to protect them, but at this point I also have to listen to them, trust them, advise and assist them when I can, but ultimately allow them to venture into this sometimes scary world on their own, make their own mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. So I have tried to nurture in them the ability to distinguish between rational and irrational fears, expose them to experiences that reinforce their trust in evidence, and encourage them to expand their empathy for others. And I have cautioned them to have skepticism about "common sense" or intuition that has not been validated.

Today most of us have safe access to clean, climate-controlled restrooms around the clock, but this has not always been the case. My aunt and uncle had an outhouse when I was in elementary school. In high school one of my favorite teachers, drivers education instructor, and eventually assistant principal was a very kind and wise African American man - Mr. Fuller - who made sure to cover the "bathroom rules" during orientation for every new class. I thought it was odd that he was so passionate about this now seemly mundane (to me) topic as he explained: "You don't need my or anyone else's permission to go to the bathroom. If I don't see you raise your hand and you have to go, then just get up and go. Don't ever let anyone stop you from going to the bathroom." I was reminded of Mr. Fuller's advice this week, and Linda Williams - writing in the News & Observer - provides some insight into the possible motivation for his passion on this topic.

I started public school in North Carolina the year my rural hometown elementary and high schools were first desegregated - almost fifteen years after Brown v. Board of Education. I have never experienced fear associated with going to the bathroom, but I do recognize that some have - and some still do. And I hope that we can all agree that everyone needs a safe and accessible place to pee. In the wake of the shamefulmisguided and disastrous legislation just passed in my state, our governor is calling it a "common sense privacy law." So it is worth reflecting for a moment on what we really mean by "common sense."
"Common sense, and direct observation, tells us that the Earth is flat, that the sun (like the moon) rotates around the Earth and that forces don’t operate at a distance."
 - Barry Jones 
Is it "common sense" to legally force this transgender man - or this one, or this one, or this one - into the women's room because their birth certificate still says female? Should this transgender woman - or this one - have to go to the men's room because their "biological sex" at birth was recorded as male and they have not had surgery or changed their birth certificate? What if they have had surgery but live in a state that doesn't allow them to change their birth certificate? Is it "common sense" to expect people to carry their birth certificates around with them in case they need to pee? Does "common sense" concern about sexual predators in bathrooms extend to sexual orientation in addition to gender identity? Should gay men relieve themselves in the ladies room and lesbians in the men's room? Where exactly should bi-sexual people pee? Or should all these people just go away? What does this new "common sense privacy law" say about these cases, and does it match your "common sense" view of the appropriate way to accommodate this basic need for these human beings?

This law was made public, rushed through the General Assembly, and signed by our governor in twelve hours. The legislature allowed only thirty minutes for public comment. Our governor - who previously served a record fourteen years as the mayor of Charlotte - signed this bill into law overturning Charlotte's recently passed nondiscrimination ordinance without even bothering to speak to the current mayor of Charlotte beforehand. This law goes way beyond bathrooms and will be challenged in court in a matter of days. I wonder what Mr. Fuller would say about it? As a devout Christian and an African American who was raised in a not too distant past that is now unfamiliar to many of us, I suspect he would be concerned about the safety and accessibility of bathrooms for transgender people and the folly of the current situation in our state. I know I am.

Update (April 1): If you live in North Carolina, please contact your state senator and representative and urge them to sponsor and vote for legislation to repeal HB2 in the upcoming short session of the NC General Assembly (starts April 25). You might also consider signing the petitions by the ACLU, Equality NC, and two NC state legislators. There's still time to stop our state from once again wasting taxpayer dollars (not to mention the lost business activity) trying to defend unconstitutional legislation passed by extremists in the state legislature. Meanwhile, you can follow the legal case here. No foolin'.

Hyatt, HP, Northrop Grumman, Ralph Lauren, American Apparel, Qualcomm, Pandora, Starbucks, Citibank, TD Bank, Hilton,...
Posted by Equality NC on Friday, April 1, 2016


  1. For more information about this new law and its sweeping consequences, check out Aaron Keck's nice FAQ in response to Gov. McCrory's attempt at damage control: Facts And Myths (That McCrory Forgot) About House Bill 2

  2. Carcano-v-McCrory: "By singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law, H.B. 2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution."

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Still playing that same old broken record Jim? If this were about protecting anyone HB2 would actually have enforcement mechanisms and penalties. Until we have that (bathroom monitors checking birth certificates?), this argument is just as ridiculous as the whole claim that transgender bathroom protections enable sexual predators. Follow the evidence and show some compassion for a physically targeted minority that is now targeted by NC state law on the basis of their sex (in violation of the Civil Rights Act).

  4. Apologies for the earlier comments. As we both know, this is a rather emotional topic.

    Can we agree that we don't want to enable predatorial behavior?

    1. Yes, but the real question here is what public policies (if any) do or don't do that. There's no evidence that ordinances like the one Charlotte passed do that, but as the American Academy of Pediatrics says HB2 likely will do that...

      "Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents are not only often bullied or unsupported, they are often victims of violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies show that as many as a quarter of LGBT adolescents have been threatened or hurt with a weapon on school property. These adolescents have a high risk of depression and suicide, about twice that of their heterosexual peers; among transgender adolescents, in particular, the risk of depression and suicide appears to be even higher. LGBT adolescents, when rejected by their family, often find themselves homeless; a 2012 study found that 40% of homeless adolescents were LGBT.

      Laws like the North Carolina law and other similar measures working their way through state legislatures across the country make things worse by, as AAP CEO Dr. Karen Remley says, 'creating a hostile environment for transgender adolescents, all implying the same message: "You’re different, something is wrong with you, you need to change in order to fit in here.'""

      - Why the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes North Carolina’s transgender “bathroom law”