California State governor Jerry Brown has just signed into effect a bill which will make single-stall public restrooms available to anyone, regardless of gender. Of course, transgender rights activists hail this as a major advance in equality.
At the same time, the measure is not without controversy. Public bathroom access has a been a major point of contention within the transgender rights arena for the past few years. In some states—California among them—transgender students use the locker rooms and restrooms that coincide with their gender identity. At the same time, though, sensitive transgender rights issues can make it hard for businesses to keep up; as advocates and members of the community may choose to take their patronage elsewhere, according to that businesses bathroom equality rules.
Indeed, Democratic assembly member Phil Ting (San Francisco)–one of the bill’s authors—comments, “Restricting access to single-user restrooms by gender defies common sense and disproportionately burdens the LGBT community, women, and parents or caretakers of dependents of the opposite gender.”
Now, the country’s most populous state has already barred discrimination against transgender people in any form, and that includes, of course, public restrooms. But this new measure takes the debate further, allowing that single-use restrooms should be available to anyone, not just one specific gender.
But while it may seem that this debate is solely about transgender rights, there is a practical angle to such a measure: allowing anyone to have access to “single-use” restrooms ensures that everyone has equal access to an available bathroom, especially in locations where these facilities may be unequally used.
According to Transgender Law Center executive director Kris Hayashi, “This law is a simple measure that will make everyone’s lives easier. Having restrooms open to all genders will mean less hassle for everyone going about their day, and will allow people who don’t fit neatly into expectations of what it looks like to be male or female to use the restroom without fear of harassment.”
And, of course, some argue that this could make it easier for sexual predators to encounter their victims. Sure, there are valid concerns over hygiene and privacy but these are issues equally difficult to address. For now, then, states continue to weigh the importance of the measure on present and future ballots (as its inclusion could persuade voters and could greatly effect schools, churches, and businesses alike).