Like probably the majority of my readers, I have been following the controversy in North Carolina. It started out when the North Carolina state legislature, with approval from antediluvian Governor Pat McCrory, passed a bill nullifying all local LGBT rights ordinances applying to the private sector and, generally speaking, forcing transgender North Carolinians to use public bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex. This not only means that Charlotte, North Carolina cannot pass laws against businesses keeping transgender individuals out of the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. It also means that Charlotte cannot pass laws against businesses firing people for being gay. Since social conservatives are well aware that there is a much stronger public consensus about workplace protection laws for gay people than there is about allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, the latter issue is where they are putting most of their focus. Since I have written a lot more in the past about sexual orientation-based discrimination, I have decided to focus this blog on the issue of transgender bathroom rights.
The first question we must address is: IF bathrooms are single-sex, which many and perhaps most of them are, should transgender individuals be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity? While I am aware that even some gay rights supporters will disagree with me on this, I believe that the answer is yes. In the first place, it is quite clear that some people are born predisposed to a gender identity that is different from their biological sex. There are probably some people who chose a gender identity that they are not born with, which can be attributed to society’s strict gender roles. That is to say, an effeminate boy or a tomboyish girl might become convinced that they have a gender identity different from their biological sex due to society telling them it’s “wrong” for boys to play with dolls or girls to wear pants and t-shirts and play sports. But it is another thing altogether to make the leap that no transgender person was born with their gender identity. This would require us to conclude that hundreds of thousands of Americans chose a “lifestyle” that would subject them to widespread social stigma. Even aside from this point, the idea makes little sense. Why is it so hard to believe that a few people were born with a different gender identity than their biological sex? And if everyone’s biological sex is so clearly defined, why are some people born intersex? Furthermore, by their very language, many opponents of transgender rights concede that transgenderism is innate in some people. Think about when people call transgenderism a “mental illness.” A mental illness is not chosen. Of course, transgenderism is not a mental illness, because there is nothing harmful or immoral about being transgender. But my point is that if you are a social conservative who believes transgenderism is a mental illness, then you really can’t contest my point about it not being a choice, because we both agree it’s not a choice; we’re just arguing about the value judgment. Bearing in mind that some people are born transgender, it is cruel to deny them the ability to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. In response to the sexual predator argument, we cannot penalize decent transgender people for bad actions by some people pretending to be transgender or even the bad actions of a few transgender people.
Unfortunately, as long as separate bathrooms exist for men and women, this issue will continue to remain controversial. Many Americans will keep balking at the idea of people who are biologically male using the women’s room and vice versa. What is the best solution? Now comes the time for a rather unpopular opinion. I believe that the best solution is to phase out men’s and women’s rooms in public bathrooms, replace them with gender-neutral bathrooms, and encourage private businesses to do the same. Businesses that do not want gender-neutral bathrooms should be free not to have them, but they should also be required to allow people to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. This will have a couple of benefits. Firstly, it will reduce the debate about who is or isn’t a man/woman for the purposes of bathroom use. If many Americans can’t see Caitlyn Jenner as a woman and therefore don’t want her in the women’s room, maybe the volatility of the issue will be reduced if coed bathrooms become the norm. Secondly, I believe it will help us to see sexism as morally equivalent to racism. This statement may sound strange, but hear me out. Racism is still widespread in America, but blatantly racist behavior is nonetheless not as socially acceptable as blatantly sexist behavior. Consider this: the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are the two largest denominations in the United States. Candidates from both parties have routinely gone out of their way to hobnob with high-ranking Catholic officials, including the Pope; Trump’s attitude toward Francis is very much the exception, not the rule. A Republican candidate who did not show respect to the Southern Baptist Convention would have virtually no shot at the party’s presidential nomination. What does all of this have to do with sexism vs. racism? Well, both of these churches refuse to ordain women. But there have been very limited calls for either party to disavow these churches for either their sexism or their homophobia. If the Mormon Church had still openly refused to ordain black priests in 2012, which it did officially refuse until 1978, could Mitt Romney have gotten away with being an active Mormon running for president? It’s very doubtful. (However, it is certainly a double standard that Romney remained a Mormon for thirteen years of his adult life while the church’s racially discriminatory policy was in place and received minuscule controversy over this compared to the controversy over Barack Obama’s association with Jeremiah Wright.) Of course, racism is still rampant in the Religious Right, and it sometimes rears its ugly head quite blatantly, but conservative Christians who are racist generally know they cannot be as blatant about it as they can about their sexism and homophobia. One has to wonder if the few instances of legalized gender-based discrimination that persisted into 21st century America contribute to this double standard. For example, when one person compares the Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women to racism, someone else might say, “Racial discrimination and gender discrimination aren’t morally equivalent. We have separate bathrooms for men and women but not for black people and white people.” Quite frankly, one good way to help stop discrimination against women is to stop discriminating against women. The best argument against this position is that gender-neutral bathrooms increase the risk of sexual assault. But ultimately, as long as we have a culture that often implicitly tolerates or condones rape, all the single-sex bathrooms in the world will not make a serious impact in reducing these heinous acts. The best way to address the problem of rape is to attack the cultural attitudes that help make it happen.