Anti-transgender bill sparks debate on bathroom use

AP, PHOENIX, Arizona

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 - Page 7

One US state lawmaker wants to link public bathroom use to birth certificates in what civil rights advocates call the nation’s toughest anti-transgender measure.

The Arizona bill would require people to use public restrooms, dressing rooms or locker rooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificate or face six months in jail.

The proposal had been scheduled for a committee vote on Wednesday, but protesters forced a delay in lawmakers’ debate.

With more people identifying as transgender, state and local governments are increasingly banning gender-identity discrimination to ward off legal battles, but both opponents and proponents say the laws don’t explicitly demand businesses provide equal access for transgender people. That creates confusion over how businesses must act.

The term transgender covers men and women whose identity does not match with their birth-assigned sex, including cross-dressers and people who do not want to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.

Among those waiting to speak out against the bill on Wednesday was Erica Keppler. She was born a man, but does not feel comfortable in men’s bathrooms or locker rooms with her earrings, long hair and feminine clothing.

If the measure becomes law, Keppler said, she will be forced to go to jail or expose herself as a transgender woman each time she uses a public bathroom, dressing room or locker room, which could potentially make her vulnerable to threats from men unsettled by her appearance.

“Most transgender people try to slip through public places without being noticed,” Keppler said. “This will turn us into criminals.”

Transgender people often have a hard time changing the gender on a birth certificate because many states require proof of gender treatment surgery. Other states do not allow birth certificate changes for gender, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Discriminating against transgender people is illegal in at least 16 states, but the protections vary.

In Arizona, bill sponsor Republican Representative John Kavanagh said government should not allow people to use facilities based on “you are what you think you are.”

“This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women,” he said. “For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable just makes no sense.”

Masen Davis, executive director for the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, said the proposed ban would target people who look different, regardless if they are transgender.

“No one should have to live in a world where they have to show their papers to pee,” Davis said.