Utah Senate Bill 100: Transgender Utahns and Bathrooms

Utah Senate Bill 100: Transgender Utahns and Bathrooms

By Anne McMullin Peffer

The State of Utah is faced with an ethical decision in the form of Senate Bill 100: Should Utah extend the employment and housing protection that is already offered to other minority populations to its LGBT and same-sex attracted residents?

Recently, the debate over whether or not the bill should be altered has focused on the concern that transgender Utahns may harm children when using employers’ restrooms. As a long-time public ally of transgender Utahns, I have listened to many intensely emotional and personal stories of quests to alleviate personal pain through matching outward gender expression to inward gender identity. The desires to achieve alignment between appearance, behaviors and inner self-perceptions are sincere and founded in deep-seated desires to be whole. The decision to make the physical, outward gender transition is not made lightly and generally comes after several years of suffering in silence while fearing rejection, exclusion and retaliation from community members who judge because they do not understand and have not considered the perspective of their transgender neighbors.

The Golden Rule appeals to our unique human ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes for the purpose of evaluating decisions we face from others’ perspectives so we can be more giving, loving and kind. There are far fewer transgender than LGB and same-sex attracted Utahns and I acknowledge that it is rare to have the opportunity to personally speak to a transgender Utahn. Without this more intimate chance to gain understanding of their stories and perspectives, it can be easy to give quick credence to the fear that children might be harmed when sharing an employer’s restroom with someone whose gender expression does not match his or her biological sex at birth.

Perhaps the determining factor when making tough decisions that will impact our children, community and all of our LGBT and same-sex attracted brothers and sisters should be what the actual, practical everyday impact of the proposed changes to Senate Bill 100 will be in the lives of real people. Utah children may, on very rare occasions, find themselves in an employer’s bathroom with someone whose gender identity and expression do not match the biological sex he or she was born with. While this can seem frightening to some, the likelihood of it occurring often is slight and the real impact on children will be minimal. The transgender population in Utah is very small and the verbiage in the bill does not apply to public restrooms, but to employers’ restrooms. Occasionally washing hands or using a private stall next to a separate private stall where another human being who was born with a biological sex that does not match his or her gender identity or expression would be a very short-lived and have minimal impact on children. Our children already see and experience enough diversity on TV, at school and on the Internet to render this brief experience insignificant in their eyes. In fact, sharing the bathroom with their transgender neighbors will be about the same as sharing the bathroom with their LGB, same-sex attracted and straight neighbors. It won’t mean much; it’s just a trip to the bathroom.

That said, the significance the changes to Senate Bill 100 would have on the lives of our LGBT and same-sex attracted brothers and sisters is profound. It would provide them housing and job security they have not before known and would communicate to them that Utahns care enough to defend that security. It would indicate that Utahns take the Golden Rule seriously enough to place the concerns of minority populations at the forefront of their minds. It would demonstrate parents’ confidence that children are resilient, hospitable, and accepting and that they themselves are not threatened by the unlikely possibility that children might be negatively effected by a short stop in the bathroom next to a person who is seeking to be whole or has already found personal internal integrity.