Anyone who has been following the news in recent weeks has more than likely witnessed the story of the “bathroom bill” signed into law in North Carolina, and the ongoing controversy surrounding it and similar pieces of legislation in states across America.
The new law, HB2, mandates that individuals must use public bathrooms that correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth, as it appears on their birth certificate. While on the surface this law may seem harmless, if perhaps unnecessary, it is actually a very deliberate, politically motivated attack on transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, a group of people who already live their daily lives under the constant threat of discrimination, harassment and assault. Essentially, under the guise of civic concern and through capitalizing on ignorance and fear, this law reinforces the widespread lack of legal protection transgender Americans have regarding their safety, privacy and personal freedoms.
The basis of this law stems from the heinously misinformed and damaging myth of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals being “predators” who will sneak into public restrooms to commit deviant acts and prey upon women and children. This narrative incites fear in the general public and is only possible due to tragically widespread misconceptions about transgender individuals and the challenges they face every day.
In fact, the transgender predator myth could not be further from the truth. Sources such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign have reported that, to this day, there has not been a single documented case of a transgender individual assailing anyone in a bathroom.
Unfortunately, while the danger transgender individuals pose to everyday bathroom-goers is just a myth, the dangers that transgender individuals themselves face when using the restroom are very real and troubling. In a survey conducted by the Williams Institute in 2013, roughly 70 percent of transgender individuals surveyed reported that they had faced instances of discrimination and harassment when using the bathroom. It seems as though the passing of HB2 and the heated controversy surrounding it have only added to the already-hostile environment transgender individuals face. Just this past week, a transgender woman in Washington, D.C., was physically assaulted, called a homophobic slur and removed from the women’s restroom of a grocery store by a security guard. Two days prior to that incident, a cisgender woman was verbally harassed by another woman in a Wal-Mart bathroom after she mistook her as transgender due to her short hair.
Clearly, laws such as HB2 do not help anyone and can actually do a severe amount of harm to the already-marginalized community of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. While the passing of HB2 has made it even harder for transgender individuals in North Carolina to go about their daily lives, and while the surrounding controversy has generated a surge of hateful attitudes toward transgender people from some, this whole affair has a singular bright side in the fact that it has put transgender issues in the national spotlight and forced the general public to pay collective attention to a group of people who are often overlooked even within the LGBTQ+ community.
Transgender individuals deserve to go about their day in peace as much as anyone else does, which can never be achieved as long as they still face the threat of discrimination regarding something as elementary as bathroom use. Discriminatory laws such as HB2 must be changed, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals must be afforded the right to use a bathroom facility that corresponds with their gender identity without fearing for their safety. At UCF, we have a prime opportunity to lead this charge against hate, as many initiatives for public restroom inclusivity have begun at college campuses.
UCF currently has 16 gender-neutral bathrooms — which are exempt from HB2 — on campus and at Research Park, as well as at Central Florida Hillel at Northview apartments.
In addition to making sure that transgender individuals are welcome to use either the men’s or women’s restroom as it corresponds to their gender identity, more than 150 colleges and universities in America have introduced gender-neutral restroom facilities that can be used by students of all genders. UCF can join this list, which was an idea that was proposed by SGA President Christopher Clemente while running for office.
Our diversity makes us stronger, and is something that should be celebrated rather than feared. Every student deserves to be able to go about their daily life unencumbered by fear, especially that of harassment and discrimination, and it is our responsibility as Knights to stand together in order to make this a reality.
Audrey Widner is a Contributing Columnist for the Central Florida Future.