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Meet America's Transphobic 'Bathroom Cops'

Meet America's Transphobic 'Bathroom Cops'


Trans? Need to use the bathroom? Not if the potty police in these six states have anything to do about it!

Trans or gender-nonconforming? Need to pee? Well, are you prepared to show your ID? Answer questions about your anatomy? How about submit to a chromosome search?

It may sound outlandish, but these are the demands proposed in legislation offered by LGBT people's latest adversaries: the bathroom cops.

First collectively referred to as "bathroom cops" by trans journalist Lexie Cannes, these Republican lawmakers in Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nevada have introduced legislation that claims policing the genders of adults and students (while they perform basic bodily functions) will somehow assure safety and protect privacy.

The reactionary laws introduced by these self-appointed bathroom cops represent a right-wing response to incremental gains in trans accomodations. Whether this progress was new trans-affirming student athlete policies in Louisville, Ky., and Minnesota, or gender identity nondiscrimination protections in Florida's Miami-Dade County, the bathroom cops' response draws on old stereotypes and fear-mongering images of trans people as dangerous predators. That imaginary "danger," these politicians claim, justifies undoing civil rights gains, blocking the creation of safe spaces, sentencing citizens and business owners to fines and jail time, and even empowering students to receive financial "bounties" for proving they've shared sex-segrated facilities with trans classmates.

Even as one bathroom cop's bill dies in Kentucky, another springs up in Nevada -- signaling an ongoing trend that has led some trans advocates to declare that bathrooms may be one of the next big LGBT civil rights battlegrounds.

Other advocates have taken to social media to send a message about what trans and gender-nonconforming people are really in bathrooms to do: #WeJustNeedToPee.

Scare tactics aside, it's becoming increasingly clear that the bathroom cops' bills may be illegal: According to the Transgender Legal and Education Defense Fund, these proposed laws violate Title IX's gender nondiscrimination provisions, which the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education recently clarified extend to gender identity.

With Florida's transphobic legislation already passing two votes in the House, it seems clear that the potty police may remain on patrol for a while longer -- perhaps even leading to a federal challenge, should one of these bills actually become law. Meet the squad here...


Rep. Frank Artiles, Florida

Leading the charge for bathroom cops everywhere is Florida's Republican Rep. Frank Artiles, whose bathroom bill introduced February 4 has seen the most progress, already clearing two votes in the state's House.

Filed in response to a December 2 ordinance that banned discrimination based on gender identity and expression in public facilities throughout Miami-Dade County, Artiles's House Bill 583 would result in any trans citizen caught using a single-sex restroom that does not match the gender on their legal identification being charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. The law would also make whoever owned the establishment where a trans person uses the restroom open to lawsuits from other patrons, as they would be "liable in a civil action to any person who is lawfully using the same single-sex public facility."

Dubbed the "Papers to Pee" bill by detractors, HB 583 is, according to its creator, meant to protect citizens' privacy and assure their safety. Trans advocates, however, have pointed out that the bill could easily create situations in which trans people's privacy was breached as well as fuel the higher rates of physical and verbal violence that trans people face in restrooms compared to their cisgender (nontrans) peers.

Artiles's arguments have drawn on what Media Matters calls the "urban myth" of trans inclusion leading to cisgender men dressing as women to victimize others in women's restrooms -- a fear-mongering image that the media watchdog has determined is unfounded after consulting with cities that have instituted gender identity nondiscrimination ordinances. While more than 200 states or localities have had trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances on the books for more than a decade, there has never been a documented instance of someone "pretending" to be transgender to gain access to women's spaces and harass the women using them.

In early March, HB 583 passed through Florida's Republican-controlled House Civil Justice Subcommittee, and on March 14 it passed through the House Government Operations Subcommittee, gaining one Republican opponent, Rep. Ken Roberson, who told the Miami Herald that the bill might have "unintended consequences."
Those consequences were captured perfectly by trans Florida resident Cindy Sullivan in her emotional testimony during the first subcommittee vote. "I am Rep. Artiles's greatest fear," she declared. "If I go to use the bathroom, everybody in the restroom has the right to sue me. ... You all just don't get it. I'm so scared of you. You can put me in jail for being me."


Rep. Debbie Riddle, Texas

Everything's bigger in Texas, they say -- and that goes for the penalties bathroom cops envision for trans people caught using the "wrong" facilities.

Texas's House Bill 1748, introduced February 20 by Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle, took policing to a new level, proposing a larger fine than Florida Rep. Artiles's bill, criminalization of building managers who "repeatedly allow" trans people to use restrooms that accord with their gender identities, and an even stricter definition of "biological sex" that goes right down to the chromosomal level.

Trans people in violation of the proposed law would face a class A misdemeanor charge and, if convicted, spend up to one year in jail and be fined $4,000, while lenient building managers would face up to two years in jail and a maximum $10,000 fine. If passed, the law would potentially tighten how Texas defines gender, considering "a male [as] an individual with at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and a female [as] an individual with at least on X chromosome and no Y chromosomes," thereby not only singling out transgender people but those who have chromosomes that don't fit the strict definition laid out in the bill, like intersex people.

Are Texans ready to have their chromosomes searched by the state?


Rep. Gilbert Pena, Texas

Two weeks after Rep. Debbie Riddle's proposed bathroom bill, Texas doubled down on its transphobia through Republican Rep. Gabriel Pena, whose House Bill 2801 declared that schools must "adopt a policy providing that only persons of the same biological sex may be present at the same time in any bathroom, locker room, or shower facility."

But there's more. Cisgender students would be able to receive a "bounty" every time they could prove they shared a bathroom, locker room, or shower with a trans classmate -- an experience which, according to HB 2801, would so assuredly cause the cisgender student "mental anguish" that they could receive additional compensation for pain and suffering, in addition to $2,000 awarded to the student by the school for having broken the law.


Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., Kentucky

In January, Republican Sen. C.B. Embry Jr. emerged as the first in the country's string of newly deputized bathroom cops by proposing the doomed Senate Bill 76, which would not only bar transgender students from using the bathroom and locker room that accords with their gender identity -- by doing so, they have an "emergency," in his opinion -- but would require schools to pay cisgender students $2,500 each time they told officials they'd shared a bathroom with a trans schoolmate.

Even after the legislature stripped the bill of its extreme "emergency" language and bounty reward, it still struggled to pass through the Senate, failing on the first vote -- and only passing the Education Committee with mere minutes of notice given for public commentary, on a vote taken when the only Democrat seated in the committee was out of the room. It then cleared the full Senate.

Once SB 76 moved to the House of Representatives, however, the Democratic representatives refused to hear it, forcing Embry to tack it onto an unrelated student-authored bill about choosing school superintendents, HB 236. The Hail Mary pass was too little too late for SB 76: HB 236 only passed after the amendment targeting transgender students was removed. Hundreds of Kentucky high-schoolers had shown up to rally for the transphobic admendment's demise.

"This Senate has succeeded in doing one thing," an exasperated Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas declared afterward. "We have now shown every young person across this state how messy, how futile, and how ineffective government is."

At least the futility went in the right direction this time.

Bathroom-cops-mn_0Clockwise from top left: Minnesota's Rep. Tim Miller, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, Rep. Eric Lucero, and Sen. David Brown

Overkill, much? A total of 25 Republican lawmakers in Minnesota introduced three bills in the House and Senate in early March aimed to invalidating a policy enacted by the Minnesota State High School League last year, which allows transgender students to play on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Authored largely by Rep. Tim Miller, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, Sen. David Brown, and Rep. Eric Lucero, the Senate's SF 1543 and the House's HF 1546 and HF 1547 proclaim that any sex-segregated restroom, locker room, or changing or shower facility inside a public school should be used only by those whose "biological sex" matches the facility's gender designation -- with sex defined as "the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person's chromosomes and is identified at birth by a person's anatomy."

In an interesting twist, the Senate bill refers solely to trans girls playing on girls' sports teams, as state law, in adherence with Title IX's prohibitions on sex-based discrimination, currently allows self-identified girls to play on boys' teams. The reality that there are already girls playing boys's sports in Minnesota only highlights the false claim that trans women present some sort of threat to cisgender women and children.

The language harkens back to transphobic scare tactics employed last year by the ultraconservative Minnesota Child Protection League, arguably the most vocal opponent of the MSHSL's trans-inclusive policy. Before the league overwhelmingly approved its new policy, the Child Protection League ran a full-page ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last September claiming the policy would allow for "a male ... to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are you OK with that?"

While Democratic politicians indicated the three proposed bills are unlikely to pass Minnesota's Democrat-controlled Senate, Sen. Scott Dibble explained to the Star Tribune why the legislation remains a real issue. "It sends a highly negative message," the gay senator said. "It fans the flames of hysteria and gives young transgender people and their families a negative message of who they are. That's a really big problem."


Rep. Jeff Pogue, Missouri

In a new twist on an old theme, Missouri Republican Rep. Jeff Pogue introduced two bills March 16 aimed at prohibiting the creation of public "gender-neutral" bathrooms.

In a move that Missouri LGBT rights group PROMO deemed a way to "create false fear" of trans people in his state, Pogue introduced HB 1338, which would require all public restrooms that were not single-occupancy to be gender-divided, and HB 1339, which would prohibit state revenue from being used toward creating "a gender-neutral environment" unless required by a federal or state court order.

"Fourteen cities and counties in Missouri and over 200 cities and counties across the county have passed laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in public accomodations with no increase in public safety incidents," PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman declared in a statement. "You would think the legislature had more pressing issues to address rather than pursue straw-man arguments."


Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling, Nevada

Nevada became the most recent state to jump on the transphobic legislation bandwagon, with Republican Assemblywoman Vicki Dooling introducing legislation in mid-March that seeks to allow transgender students access only to the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their "biological sex" as determined by "anatomy at birth" and "if necessary, at the chromosomal level."

Taking a cue from her peers' legislation in Texas and Minnesota, Dooling's bill also suggests that if a trans student expresses the need to use the bathroom, the individual should be provided a unisex bathroom or separate stall.

Often presented as a "reasonable" alternative solution to the nonproblem of transgender and cisgender students sharing space, this little bit of police work can actually have serious consequences. As the National Center for Transgender Equality has pointed out, restricting students to bathrooms based on "biological sex" puts such youth at risk for increased harassment and stigmatization. Providing a faculty or single-stall bathroom as an alternative singles trans students out and over time may increase their likelihood of disengaging from school or dropping out altogether, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Sunnivie Brydum contributed reporting to this article.

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