How Tennessee’s Transgender Business Bathroom Bill Poses Major Health Risk
In August 2020, Lauren Jackson was spending a summer day at Agate State Beach Park in Oregon. It was then that a routine visit to the women’s bathroom became dangerous. A man attacked Jackson. The stranger beat her and broke her jaw before running away from the park.
Jackson is transgender and the perpetrator confronted her for using the women’s bathroom.
Sadly, Jackson isn’t the only transgender person to have been harassed or attacked near the bathroom. 60% of transgender people avoid using public toilets for fear of being verbally or physically assaulted, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Almost a year has passed since Jackson was attacked, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a new toilet law. The law would require all businesses in the state to publicly display a sign indicating whether they encourage transgender customers to use the washroom of their choice. Nashville Attorney General (DA) Glenn Funk and the Human Rights Campaign have spoken out against Lee’s bill.
If Lee’s bill goes into effect in July, all businesses that serve transgender customers will be required to advertise this sign: “This facility maintains a policy allowing the use of the toilet by either gender.” organic, regardless of the designation on the toilet. ” Municipal DAs would be responsible for overseeing the bill, and contractors who fail to comply can face fines or jail time.
No other state has used signs to clearly mark LGBT-friendly establishments.
Some members of the transgender community feel that these signs can provide a useful designation for which businesses to support and which to avoid. Other people fear that the bill will cause more cases of harassment and abuse.
Why would Bill 1182 be more dangerous than allowing people to freely use the bathrooms of their choice? A similar North Carolina bathroom bill could predict the repercussions.
In 2016, former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory banned transgender people from using the bathroom they were most comfortable in. He said transgender-friendly bathrooms “could also create major public safety problems by endangering citizens through deviant actions by individuals taking unfair advantage of bad policy.” These warnings of sexual abuse, of men dressing up to prey on women using the toilet, had no merit. Trans-friendly bathrooms and locker rooms have not seen higher rates of assault or violence, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School. However, this misplaced fear has led some community members to take it upon themselves to monitor the toilets of people who may be transgender.
In July 2019, North Carolina agreed to end the ban on transgender toilets. Sadly, this settlement came too late for a transgender woman from Raleigh who was sexually harassed and physically assaulted while using the restroom.
Unlike the North Carolina bill, Tennessee’s House Bill 1182 does not categorically prohibit transgender people from using the appropriate bathroom. However, mandatory labeling of transgender-friendly businesses can still pose risks. Businesses, churches and health centers across the country have reported anti-LGBT + graffiti. In Tennessee, some business owners are concerned that posting the required signs advertising their bathroom policies could result in anti-trans graffiti or property damage. Such vandalism is costly to repair when many businesses are struggling financially after the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an interview with News Channel 5, the owners of the Darkhorse Theater in Nashville describe the bill as “petty.” “I’m not a doctor,” says co-owner Peter. “I don’t have the capacity to look at each of our clients and determine which bathroom they are supposed to go to.”
Most importantly, transgender Tennesseans worry about their safety. Transgender clients may avoid using the restroom if they are concerned that other clients may question their gender. Alphonso David, President of the Campaign for Human Rights, says: “Denying transgender people the opportunity to access a bathroom that conforms to their gender identity is degrading and dehumanizing – and can have real consequences on health and safety. ”
When a transgender person avoids using the toilet outside of their home, they can hold their bladder for hours. Over time, holding your bladder can lead to several serious health problems like urinary tract infections and incontinence.
Readers concerned about this issue may consider asking Governor Lee or other Tennessee lawmakers or supporting the following LGBT + organizations: the Tennessee Chapter of GLSEN, the Tennessee Vals, PFLAG Nashville, Just Us at Oasis Center or the Tennessee Equality Project.