The debate over transgender people’s rights to use the bathrooms of the gender that they identify with is an old one. Yet on February 15, 2016, there was a fairly substantial protest here Washington over that same right—the right for transgender people to use the restroom without being ostracized or harassed— because of recent modification to a state law that allows transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify with, regardless of their sex.
At first glance, this seems like a very good thing. When I first heard about it, I thought it was wonderful. Transgender people were finally being treated as human beings who can use the bathroom in peace! But then I heard the protesters’ main argument. According to the News Tribune, they weren’t holding up signs saying that being transgender is “unnatural,” and they weren’t insisting that God would send transgender people to hell for their actions. Instead, people from organizations like Washington Women’s Network were calling attention to another aspect of this issue, bringing up some very valid and concerning ideas.
These women were concerned about losing their safety. To be clear, these women were concerned about losing their safety in the presence of men entering their restrooms. I do not mean to say “men” in the way transphobic people call transgender women “men.” No, I am talking about men, who identify as men and who can now pose as transgender women and enter women’s bathrooms to sexually harass and assault them.
Now I understand the arguments against the validity of this concern. I agreed with them myself before I did some research. But trust me, it’s really hard to declare the protesters unnecessarily worried when you read about people like Jason Pomares, a cis-male who pretended to be a woman to secretly record women as they used the restroom, or Christopher Hambrook, another cis-male who pretended to be a woman to enter a women’s shelter and was later discovered raping a woman who had been sleeping there.
So a different solution needs to be found. Perhaps the amount of single person bathrooms in public places needs to increase. Perhaps in public places, gender neutral bathrooms could be offered alongside male and female bathrooms (with those with male genitalia using male bathrooms, those with female genitalia using female bathrooms and those who have either, or identify as either and haven’t chosen to transition, using gender neutral bathrooms). There are any number of solutions, but I cannot say the one chosen by this state is the best one.