A bathroom bill is the common name for legislation or a statute that defines access to public toilets by gender (restrooms)—or transgender individual. Bathroom bills affect access to sex-segregated public facilities for an individual based on a determination of their sex as defined in some specific way—such as their sex as assigned at birth, their sex as listed on their birth certificate, or the sex that corresponds to their gender identity. A bathroom bill can either be inclusive or exclusive of transgender individuals, depending on the aforementioned definition of their sex. Unisex public toilets are one option to overcome this controversy.
Critics of bills which exclude transgender individuals from restrooms which conform to their gender identity argue that they do not make public restrooms any safer for cisgender (non-transgender) people, and that they make public restrooms less safe for both transgender people and gender non-conforming cisgender people. Additionally, critics claim there have been no cases of a transgender person attacking a cisgender person in a public restroom, although there has been at least one isolated incident of voyeurism in a fitting room. By comparison, a much larger percentage of transgender people have been verbally, physically, and sexually harassed or attacked by cisgender people in public facilities. For these reasons the controversy over transgender bathroom access has been labeled a moral panic.
Proponents say such legislation is necessary to maintain privacy, protect what they claim to be an innate sense of modesty held by most cisgender people, prevent voyeurism, assault, molestation, and rape, and retain psychological comfort.
One bathroom bill, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act in North Carolina, was approved as a law in 2016, although portions of the measure were later repealed in 2017 as part of a compromise between the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.
Also in 2016, guidance was issued by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education stating that schools which receive federal money must treat a student’s gender identity as their sex (for example, in regard to bathrooms). However, this policy was revoked in 2017.
Public opinion regarding “transgender bathroom rights” in the United States is mixed, see summary table below.
|Date(s) conducted||Support laws that require transgender individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to their birth sex||Oppose laws that require transgender individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to their birth sex||Don’t know / NA||Margin of error||Sample||Conducted by||Polling type|
|May 3, 2017 – May 7, 2017||48%||45%||7%||4%||1,011 adults American adults||Gallup||Cellphone and landline phones|
|February 10, 2017 – February, 19, 2017||39%||53%||2.6%||2,031 adults||Public Religion Research Institute||Live interviews via RDD telephones and cell phones|
|August 16, 2016 – September 12, 2016, 2016||46%||51%||3%||2.4%||4,538 respondents||Pew Research||Web and mail|
|May 4, 2016 – May 8, 2016||50%||40%|