Should people use the toilet that corresponds with the sex they were born with, or the toilet of the gender they identify as?
For the vast majority of the population, the sex on their birth certificate and the gender with which they identify are the same, rendering the above question irrelevant. But for transgender people, the situation is different. Gender dysphoria – the condition in which your emotional and psychological identity differs from the physical gender you were born as – can lead to a person making outward changes to their appearance and transitioning from one gender to another.
Now, a new battle is being waged in the US over whether transgender people should be allowed to use the toilet (referred to as bathroom or restroom in the US) that correspondents to their identity, rather than the sex they were born with.
The current controversy began in March when North Carolina enacted a law requiring transgender people to choose restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate. Musicians including Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen and companies such as Pepsi and PayPal responded by boycotting the state. Springsteen said he wanted to ‘show solidarity’, adding, ‘some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry is one of them’.
There were accusations from LGBT activists that the legislation was backed by conservative groups as a retaliation to the legalisation of gay marriage last year. Director of operations at The Center for Equality, Ashley Joubert-Gaddis, told USA Today, ‘What this amounts to is legislators saying “we didn’t win the gay marriage fight, so let’s go after someone else”.’
LGBT rights campaigners have argued ‘the bathroom is a bastion of segregation’. They want to see public toilets become ‘gender neutral’ – meaning that any person could use the facility, regardless of gender.
The Republican National Committee has encouraged states to pass more of these so-called ‘bathroom bills’ that limit everyone – including transgender people – to only using the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. The American public are divided on this issue but according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 18 to 29s favour letting transgender people use the restroom of their identity by a two-to-one ratio. For those aged 60 or more, the ratio was two-to-one in reverse, with people saying restroom use should be mandated by the gender on one’s birth certificate.
In April, US supermarket chain Target announced a policy of allowing employees and customers to use ‘the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity’. Over a million people – including many Christians – signed a petition vowing to boycott the store. There was anger that policies about public spaces (which affect everyone) would be changed to cater for 0.3% of the population who identify as transgender.
The following month, the Obama administration added fuel to the fire when it issued a letter requiring all public school districts to permit transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. The rationale given was that transgender students should be able to ‘enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment’.
One of the most common objections has related to safety. Writing on wnd.com, evangelical author Dr James Dobson and founder of Family Talk wondered, ‘Have we gone absolutely mad?’
Dr Dobson said, ‘The president’s order made me furious, and then sick to my stomach. Would you remain passive after knowing that a strange-looking man, dressed like a woman, has been peering over toilet cubicles to watch your wife in a private moment? If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot.’
Writing on Christianpost.com, president of ex-gay group Voice of the Voiceless, Christopher Doyle took a similar line, accusing ‘the LGBT lobby’ of being ‘out of control’ and ‘acting irresponsibly’.
‘They are willing to traumatize children in bathroom and locker rooms…This is not love. This is not equality.’
Responding to Dr Dobson’s comments, Lorraine Berry wrote on rawstory.com, ‘It is not clear if Dobson is aware that he is using the language of protecting a woman’s honor by killing those who might violate it, but his language is reminiscent of the ways that mobs were whipped up to hang black men and boys for perceived slights to white women.’
Others have said Dr Dobson fails to make a distinction between perverts and transgender people. Many say the argument about safety is a red herring as there’s no statistical evidence that more crimes take place in gender neutral public toilets. As uncomfortable as it may be for a Christian to admit, on a purely statistical basis, a child is in more danger from a priest in a church than they are from a transgender person in a public toilet.
BEYOND THE DEBATE
Speaking on Premier Christian Radio’s Your News programme, Jamie Cutteridge, editor of Premier Youthwork magazine, pointed out
THE BATHROOM IS A BASTION OF SEGREGATION
that transgender people have already been using the toilets of their choice for many years. It wasn’t until states began to legislate that a media storm erupted.
‘I don’t understand why this is something Christians should kick off about,’ he said. ‘Do we really want to force people to use a public toilet that they would feel uncomfortable using?’
Although many Christian groups stateside are continuing to back ‘bathroom bills’, others are raising serious questions.
Speaking on Christianity Today’s ‘Quick To Listen’ podcast, Mark Yarhouse, author of Understanding Gender Dysphoria (IVP) said, ‘Legislation in general is probably not going to be helpful. People experience legislation as an attack on the things that they believe in, and other people believe legislation is symbolic of the things that matter the most to them. So you can quickly have two sides speaking past one another and that’s essentially what we have today.’
Less than a year after gay marriage was legalised in the United States, conservative Christians are once again on the front lines of America’s ‘culture war’. This is often a battle where Christians fight the rest of the culture, and both sides tend to vilify the other. American society is (like our own) increasingly secular and less open to traditional views on gender and morality. As the casualties mount up, believers in the USA may need to decide which battles in this lengthy war are worth fighting.