Karine Jean-Pierre
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Meet America's Transphobic 'Bathroom Cops'

Meet America's Transphobic 'Bathroom Cops'

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 Kentuckyanother 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...


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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."

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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?

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Rep. Gilbert Peña, Texas

Two weeks after Rep. Debbie Riddle's proposed bathroom bill, Texas doubled down on its transphobia through Republican Rep. Gabriel Peña, 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.


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