A new bill in Arizona seeks to ban transgender people from using their public bathrooms of choice in what civil rights advocates have called the nation’s toughest anti-transgender proposal. Others have likened the bill to Arizona’s prominent 2010 immigration law and deemed the proposal the “Show Me Your Papers Before You Go Pee” or the “Show Me Your Papers Before You Go Potty” bill.
The bill mandates that people use public bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificate. The fine for doing otherwise? A potential fine of $2,500 and six months in jail.
The bill was scheduled for a vote Wednesday during a House of Representatives committee, but the Associated Press reports that State Representative John Kavanagh said he would delay debate on his bill due to a paperwork error mere minutes after the meeting started. Meanwhile, transgender supporters gathered in the committee room and the lobby in protest. Some men wore dresses while women came adorned in business suits.
Presently, transgender people tend to keep a low profile as they pass through public facilities. The new Arizona bill would criminalize such behavior. Transgender people would be exposed to risks regardless of which bathroom they choose to enter. The bill, were it to become law, would make transgender people vulnerable to harassment or worse from others unsettled by their appearance. Picture a transgender woman walking into the men’s bathroom with a swooping dress, large earrings, and flowing hair and you get the idea.
Recent legislation has moved in the opposite direction. Over 100 local communities have made gender-identity discrimination a crime. Such laws can be found, perhaps unsurprisingly, in liberal strongholds such as Massachusetts and California, but similar laws have also appeared in Southern states stretching from Texas to Georgia. Some apply to public property only, some go further, but they generally move in the same direction. Tennessee sought to introduce a bill similar to Arizona’s last year, but it failed to get off the ground.
Kavanagh’s bill seeks to slow the tides of change closer to home. Last month Pheonix passed legislation that extended protections to transgender people in housing, workplaces, and public facilities.
“The city of Phoenix has crafted a bill that allows people to define their sex by what they think in their head,” Kavanagh told a local television station. “If you’re a male, you don’t go into a female shower or locker room, or vice versa. It also raises the specter of people who want to go into those opposite sex facilities not because they’re transgender, but because they’re weird.”
The Arizona bill faces sharp public resistance. In addition to the protest that crowded the halls of the Arizona House of Representatives, commentary has appeared online.
“This should be a top priority for all police departments across this great nation: keeping America’s restrooms safe and secure from the thugs who want to urinate in someone else’s restroom,” a Phoenix resident wrote in a sarcastic opinion piece on azcentral.com. ” Thank God for John Kavanagh.”
Nevertheless, Kavanagh is not without his allies. Some people fear that anti-discriminatory lawsuits will force businesses to spend extra money accommodating transgender people by building unisex facilities. Some argue that the proposed bill would protect businesses from bogus complaints from people who are not actually transgender.
“Someone can just say `oh, I feel like I am a woman,’” Aaron Baer, a Center for Arizona Policy spokesman, said to the Associated Press. “That person can just say, `you are discriminating against me.’”
Kavanagh has expressed fear that the anti-discrimination ban passed in Phoenix last month would give pedophiles easy access to children of the opposite gender. Such concerns have also been used to prevent the expansion of gay rights for decades, but the argument has lost traction in recent years. Transgender people are finding out that public opinion is swaying gradually in their favor, and they may have an easier time preventing an Arizona bill from turning public bathrooms into unsafe places than they thought.