Using public restrooms has never been a prospect I’ve ever been particularly excited about. It’s kind of a necessary evil. But, it never used to be so complicated.
An individual’s bathroom rights have been the subject of policy change, public debate, backlash, boycotts, celebrity stance’s, and government legislation lately that is getting increasingly heated. And it’s become a cause for concern amongst many Christians.
Depending on your point of view, the issues are complicated…or pretty simple. In a world that used to be defined by “stand or sit,” we’re heading into a world where going the bathroom in public is a policy debate.
On the one hand are people who feel that bathrooms should clearly be divided into men’s and women’s — you were born a certain gender, you should go to the bathroom with your kind.
On the other hand are people who feel that those in our society who do not identify as being the gender they were born to, or that have been surgically transformed into a different physical gender than the one they started out as, should be able to use whatever bathroom that their identity tells them to.
Some people feel that we need to protect the rights of transgenders. Some people don’t want anyone in the bathroom with them that isn’t the same literal sex and feel we need to protect that right to privacy.
From high schools to ballparks to restaurants to department stories, it’s a charged situation with serious implications for individual rights, protections, public policy, and government funding.
That may be a huge over-simplification of the issues, but that’s about where we’re at.
A look at the battlefield
If you’re like me, it’s never really been super comfortable going to the bathroom in a public place. It’s weird. It’s dirty. There are strangers and germs and weird goings on in those places. Pretty much anyplace that isn’t your home just doesn’t seem right. If I have to use a public restroom, it’s pretty much brace yourself, get in, get out.
Public restrooms are also places where certain unstated boundaries and codes of behavior have been in place for generations.
In the men’s room, I can tell you, it’s eye’s forward, don’t talk, don’t make friends, no eye contact.
One thing is for certain. When genders cross those unstated boundaries, there can be trouble. One time, as a teenager, I accidentally wandered into the women’s restroom at O’Hare airport. As I unwittingly stumbled into that sacred place I thought I was going to get lynched. Women rushed at me, yelling for me to get out, shooshing me away with their arms. I feared for my life.
Everyone has stories of the wrong genders invading the wrong bathroom spaces. Fathers who were out and about with their little daughters, mothers herding their infant sons, women at baseball games who couldn’t bear the long lines to the ladies room, husbands defending the door of the men’s room so their wives could have privacy when the ladies room was down for repairs, guys who snuck into the women’s bathroom when the men’s room was full, drunken guys not knowing what bathroom they were even in, on and on and on…
At one point somebody came up with the “unisex” bathroom idea. But I highly suspect this was a way to deal with the fact that there was only one bathroom available and genders had to take turns rather than anything with a loftier social agenda behind it.
But, now comes the transgender question and suddenly we don’t know who or what or when or how public restrooms are to be navigated.
Presumably transgender people have been around for a long time and have been using public restrooms along with the rest of us for years. (I personally can’t tell you that I’ve ever noticed any specifically. Eyes straight. No talking.) Particularly in schools they can face serious safety issues as they are not really welcome in either gender’s bathroom.
But now the issue of which bathrooms transgender people can and should use has become the subject of intense public debate.
Here’s a snapshot of several recent news articles covering events swirling around this issues…
North Carolina lays down the law
North Carolina governor signs controversial transgender bill
March 24, 2016 — North Carolina’s governor on Wednesday signed a controversial bill blocking cities from allowing transgender individuals to use public bathrooms for the sex they identify as — as well as restricting cities from passing nondiscrimination laws more broadly.
House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, puts in place a statewide policy that bans individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex. The bill also reserves the right to pass nondiscrimination legislation to the state government, saying state laws preempt any local ordinances.
Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed the bill Wednesday night and tweeted, “Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it.”
Bruce Springsteen cancels North Carolina concert to protest bathroom law
April 8, 2016 – The backlash against North Carolina’s law banning anti-discrimination ordinances kept going unabated Friday, as Bruce Springsteen announced that he was canceling a weekend show in the state in solidarity with those protesting the bill.
Springsteen and the E Street Band were scheduled to perform at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday night as part of their current tour, which continues in the United States this month and heads to Europe in May.
On Friday afternoon, Springsteen released a statement saying that he could no longer play the show.
“Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them,” Springsteen said in the message posted on his website. “It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
Target just took a big step for transgender customers
April 20, 2016 — Target is getting widespread praise after announcing that it would welcome transgender customers to use any bathroom or fitting room that matches their gender identity.
The chain said Tuesday that it wanted to clarify its position on the issue, in light of recent debates in state legislatures across the country around the appropriateness of transgender bathrooms.
“We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,” the retailer said in a statement. “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”
Backlash against the backlash
More than 700,000 pledge to boycott Target over transgender bathroom policy
April 28, 2016 — A conservative Christian activist group has gained more than half a million signatures and counting from people pledging to boycott Target over its transgender bathroom policy.
The petition started by the American Family Association on Wednesday raises concerns that Target’s inclusive stance on transgender rights encourages sexual predators and puts women and young girls in danger, because “a man can simply say he ‘feels like a woman today’ and enter the women’s restroom.”
The boycott has more than 744,800 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, marking it as one of AFA’s most popular campaigns.
‘Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Shares ‘Radical’ Solution for NC Transgender Bathroom Law
May 10, 20116 — “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson told prospective conservatives political donors in a recent email that he has a “radical idea” in response to the controversy surrounding North Carolina’s recently passed transgender bathroom law.
While some notable celebrities and corporations have pushed back hard against North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law that prohibits local governments from forcing businesses to allow customers who are men according to their birth sex to go into women’s restrooms, the Duck call businessman and A&E TV star is siding with the state.
According to Hollywood Reporter, Robertson has teamed up with conservative political nonprofit Citizens United to defend the law.
In an email distributed by the organization, the Duck Commander says: “I’ve got a radical idea. Men should use the men’s bathroom and women should use the women’s bathroom.
“Just because a man may ‘feel’ like a woman doesn’t mean he should be able to share a bathroom with my daughter, or yours. That used to be called common sense. Now it’s called bigoted.”
And the federal government weighs in
The Obama administration issued guidance Friday directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
May 13, 2016 — A joint letter from the Departments of Education and Justice went to schools Friday with guidelines to ensure that “transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment,” the Obama administration said Thursday.
The announcement comes amid heated debate over transgender rights in schools and public life, which includes a legal standoff between the administration and North Carolina over its controversial House Bill 2. The guidance goes beyond the bathroom issue, touching upon privacy rights, education records and sex-segregated athletics, all but guaranteeing transgender students the right to identify in school as they choose.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. “This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”
The letter does not carry the force of law but the message was clear: Fall in line or face loss of federal funding.
Concern for Christians?
So there you have it. Yes, let 2016 be known as the year where even going to the bathroom in a public place has become a source of controversy and concern.
Are we doing right by defending the rights of transgender people? Are we trampling the privacy rights of non transgender people? Are we solving a problem for a segment of society that has long suffered bullying and mistreatment or are we opening the doors for pedophiles and perverts to prey upon children in any restroom they can get into?
Is this an issue of concern for Christians? Is supporting or not supporting transgender people challenging from a Christian perspective? Are we showing love or breeding intolerance? Are boycotts what you’re about or do you reject them?