U.S. News

03.20.13

Show Me Your Papers Before You Pee? It Could Happen in Arizona

Only in Arizona ... To thwart transgender people from using the ‘wrong’ bathroom, a Republican has crafted a bill to make it a misdemeanor. Tricia Romano on the brewing backlash.

If a Republican legislator has his way, you’ll need papers to pee in Arizona.

Thanks to the state’s infamous immigration legislation, residents are already subject to searches to prove their citizenship status. Now transgender people will have to prove they are in the “correct” bathroom. A new bill introduced this week by Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to use a public restroom that does not correspond to the gender on one’s birth certificate. If a person is reported to be using the bathroom without the proper paperwork and matching genitals, it would be defined as “disorderly conduct,” and the person could be fined $2,500 and spend six months in jail.

The new bill comes on the heels of anti-discriminatory legislation passed in Phoenix last month that extended basic protections to transgender people in housing, the workplace, and places of public accommodation.

It’s the last bit regarding “public accommodation” that inspired Kavanagh to introduce his own bill. He told 12 News Phoenix: “The city of Phoenix has crafted a bill that allows people to define their sex by what they think in their head. If you’re a male, you don’t go into a female shower or locker room, or vice versa.”

He added that the Phoenix ordinance could also protect “weird” people who use the wrong bathroom on purpose: “It also raises the specter of people who want to go into those opposite-sex facilities not because they’re transgender, but because they are weird.”

In another interview, this one with CBS 5 in Arizona, Kavanagh said his bill “is designed to protect young children from being exposed to the other gender in their fullness in inappropriate situations. I'm just restoring sanity, because the Phoenix bill turned gender upside down.”

Kavanagh did not return a request for comment for this article.

The bathroom bill has the transgender community up in arms. “What this lawmaker is proposing is nothing short of a witch hunt with unimaginably dangerous consequences,” said Herndon Graddick, the president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Transgender Americans continue to face staggering rates of violence, and this ridiculous notion that they are a somehow threat will only exacerbate the problem. Legislators have a responsibility to protect their constituents, not put them in harm’s way.”

Buck Angel, a female-to-male porn star and sex educator, wrote via email: “So, which one is the ‘wrong’ one? If a transsexual man as bearded, muscled, and tattooed as I am went into the ladies room, the women would all scream! That is definitely the "wrong" bathroom for me (even though I have a vagina).”

Going to the bathroom in a public venue can be a huge source of anxiety for transgender people, particularly those who are just transitioning and don’t yet “pass” as their true gender. According to a recent study conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 53 percent of transpeople report being ”harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation.”

“The bottom line is that we are all going into the bathroom for the same thing: to relieve ourselves.”

And it’s not just adult transgender people who have to navigate the public-restroom issue. A 6-year old transgender girl in Colorado, Coy Mathis, filed a filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division after her school switched course and barred Mathis from using the girls’ restroom after allowing her to do so for a year.

“I think that it is extreme and dangerous it criminalizes trans people simply for being who they are,” said Michael D. Silverman, executive director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., who is working on Mathis’s case. “Any time that the government takes action motivated by bias towards one particular group, that action is unconstitutional.”

And in some cases, the birth certificate doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect the new gender of the individual. In Arizona, in order to have one’s gender changed on a birth certificate, one must have completed gender-reassignment surgery. Increasingly, though, many trans people are choosing to forgo surgery, for both personal and financial reasons. (The surgeries are expensive and not always covered by health insurance.) And some trans people don’t want to define themselves in binary or “cisgendered” terms.

As Stephen Ira, the transgender son of Warren Beatty and Annette Bening who has been vocal on trans issues, explained via email: “There are lots of different surgeries out there that can help different kinds of trans and gender non-conforming people feel more comfortable in their bodies, from a bilateral mastectomy to an oopherectomy to a bilareral orchiectomy to facial feminization surgery to breast implants to a phalloplasty to a metoidoplasty to a vaginoplasty—and more.” Ira continued: “Not all of us need or want all of those surgeries, not even those of us who do identify as men or women. Some of us get one. Some get two. Some get more. Some get none. That's part of why a law like this is so ridiculous! Often, laws like these require proof of genital surgery, which plenty of trans folks don't want or need, in order to change a birth certificate.”

Kavanagh, say the trans activists, is making much ado about nothing and trying to deny people a basic right.

“The bottom line is that we are all going into the bathroom for the same thing: to relieve ourselves,” said Angel. “It is a human function. Unfortunately, with all this drama, I think the best thing to do at this point is have gender-neutral restrooms. People need to understand that it is difficult for trans people to go through their transitions, so the last thing we need is people giving us a hard time about where we can go pee.”