News LGBTQ

California’s Public Bathrooms Could Soon Be Gender Neutral

Nicole Knight

A Democratic-backed bill would require an "all gender" label on all single-occupancy toilet facilities in California businesses, government buildings, and public spaces.

Gender-segregated public bathrooms could go the way of the horse and buggy under a California bill introduced last week.

AB 1732, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require an “all gender” label on all single-occupancy toilet facilities in California businesses, government buildings, and public spaces.

“Signs restricting single-use restroom access by gender create problems of convenience, fairness, and safety,” Ting said in a statement announcing the measure. “‘All gender’ signs will end these problems and ensure everyone’s rights are protected.”

Gender-segregated restrooms are shaping up as a fresh battleground over equal rights and access as states and municipalities seek to expand—and in some cases curb—who can use the bathroom.

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Cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle, Santa Fe, and New York City require businesses and city buildings to designate single-user restrooms as all gender, according to California’s Transgender Law Center. Proposed state legislation in New York and Vermont calls for gender-neutral labeling of single-occupancy bathrooms in public buildings, with the Vermont bill limited to newly constructed or renovated state buildings.

But equal access is not a universal goal. A Republican-backed bill in Indiana would make it a crime punishable by up to one year in jail for a man or trans woman to “knowingly or intentionally [enter] a single sex public facility designed to be used by females,” and vice versa. Two Wisconsin Republicans proposed a bill last fall to bar transgender students from using the restrooms of the gender with which they identify. A revised bill would allow gender-neutral school bathrooms in the state.

“The reality is that these bills aren’t about fighting an actual threat to safety or privacy,” representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality wrote last week. “They’re about criminalizing trans people of all ages just for living as who they are and denying them to right to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.”

The 2011 report “Injustice at Every Turn” found that 63 percent of transgender people surveyed by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force (formerly the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) reported being subjected to wide-ranging discrimination, including physical and sexual assault.

Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, told Rewire that the California bill “will especially reduce the harassment and unnecessary stress” experienced by many transgender people who use a gendered restroom.

Stripping bathrooms of gender-segregating labels is commonly seen as one tool to limit violence against transgender people. But the push for inclusiveness has been met in some corners of the country with fearmongering. In ad campaigns in Houston last fall, opponents of a broad anti-discrimination measure stoked discredited concerns among voters that the law would lead to a spike in sexual assault if cisgender men, who identify as transgender, were permitted to enter “women’s” bathrooms. The measure failed.

“All Californians should have the same freedom to participate in public life, go about their day, and use the bathroom when they need it,” Kris Hayashi, the executive director of Transgender Law Center, said in a statement supporting AB 1732.

The groups Equality California, California NOW, and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association support the bill, which is co-authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco); Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton); and Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

A 2013 California law allows public school students to use facilities such as restrooms that correspond with their gender identity, but doesn’t require a neutral labeling of such facilities.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Texas Court Greenlights Discrimination Against Transgender Students

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The ruling was not a decision on the merits of the Obama administration’s policy, but rather whether it followed the correct procedure in crafting it, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote.

A federal judge in Texas on Sunday issued a preliminary injunction barring the Obama administration from enforcing guidelines designed to protect transgender students from discrimination in schools.

The ruling came in the multi-state lawsuitTexas v. United States, challenging the Obama administration’s guidance to schools that receive federal funding that transgender students must be given access to bathrooms that align with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

Schools that defy the White House’s guidance would face potential loss of funding or federal lawsuits.

The lawsuit brought by Texas and states including Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, targets various federal memos and statements that served as the foundation for the administration’s position that the Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 federal ban on sex discrimination encompasses gender identity discrimination. The administration charges that transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

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The administration overstepped its authority in issuing the statement in violation of both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, according to the states challenging the guidance.

A nearly identical lawsuit challenging the White House’s policy was filed recently by the state of Nebraska. That lawsuit was joined by Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the administration failed to engage in the proper administrative rule making process when directing schools to not discriminate against transgender students in access to restrooms and facilities. The ruling, O’Connor wrote, was not a decision on the merits of the administration’s policy, but rather whether it followed the correct procedure in crafting it.

“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor said in his ruling. “The resolution of this difficult policy issue is not, however, the subject of this order.”

Sunday’s ruling comes shortly after the Supreme Court put on hold a federal appeals court ruling ordering a Virginia county school board to allow a transgender student access to the restroom that aligned with his gender identity.

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