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Arizona Bathroom Bill Reworked, But Still Discriminatory Against Transgender Individuals

Martha Kempner

The new version of the bill would no longer make going to the "wrong" bathroom a criminal act, but it would allow business owners to tell transgender individuals "You can't go in there," in the words of the bill's sponsor.

On Monday, Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) revised a controversial bill that originally would have imposed criminal penalties on individuals who use a public bathroom, locker room, or dressing room that does not match the sex on their birth certificate. That’s right, the “show me your papers” state was going to require that you show a birth certificate before you pee. The new version of the bill would no longer make going to the “wrong” bathroom a criminal act, but it is still discriminatory against transgender individuals.

The bill stemmed from a recent Phoenix City Council vote to extend anti-discrimination laws to LGBTQ individuals. Opponents argued that that the measure would put business owners at risk of prosecution for “refusing to let transgendered individuals who are anatomically male use the women’s restroom,” Capitol Media Services reports.

Ensuring that transgender individuals bear that risk instead, Kavanagh proposed a bill that would criminalize using the “wrong” bathroom. Specifically, the law would have required people to use public restrooms, dressing rooms, or locker rooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificates or be subject to criminal prosecution, a possible fine of $2,500, and punishment of up to six months in jail.

Public restrooms can be problematic and even unsafe for transgender men and women. Forcing a transgender woman to use a male bathroom, for example, could put her in a dangerous situation. And yet, that is exactly what Kavanagh’s bill would have done.

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The outrage over the bill was immediate. Last week, when the committee was set to vote on the bill, protestors crowded the committee room. Kavanagh quickly said he would delay the debate on the bill because of an error in his paperwork.

On Monday, Kavanagh submitted a revised bill that did not include any criminal penalties for individuals using the “wrong” bathroom. The new version puts the focus back on business owners; it would give them immunity if they “turn away someone from a restroom based on the belief of the owner or manager that a person should not be using that facility,” according to Capitol Media Services. As Kavanagh put it, “We’re simply saying that the store owner has the right to decide what type of restroom, unisexual or one sex only, and has the right to say to somebody ‘You can’t go in there’ without being locked up by the city of Phoenix and sued by the person denied service.”

Though less extreme, the bill still discriminates against transgender individuals. The people of Arizona might be better served if lawmakers worked to encourage safe restrooms from everyone, rather than ensuring immunity for business owners who discriminate against transgender men and women.

The bill is set to be voted on by committee this week.

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