Editor’s Note: Carmelyn P. Malalis is the commissioner and chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the agency charged with enforcing the New York City Human Rights Law. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Carmelyn Malalis: Transgender and gender non-conforming people routinely denied access to bathrooms
Safe bathroom access is essential for everyone, she says
If you’ve ever stood in line for a public restroom in a crowded coffee shop, you know what it’s like to wait. But imagine if at the end of that wait someone stopped you from using the bathroom. Not because it was occupied or broken, but because of who you are.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for many transgender and gender nonconforming people living and working in the United States. Among other forms of discrimination, transgender and gender nonconforming people are routinely denied access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities because of how others perceive them.
This practice is not only shameful, it also is illegal in New York City.
It is illegal under the New York City Human Rights Law for employers, housing providers and public accommodations to deny someone the right to use a bathroom or facility because of their perceived or actual gender identity. The New York City Commission on Human Rights, the agency charged with fighting discrimination citywide, can issue fines of up to $250,000 for violations.
Put bluntly, everyone deserves the right to pee in peace, which is why Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order this week requiring all city agencies to make clear that employees and members of the public are able to use city single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity, setting an example for other cities on how they should protect the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.
The order applies to all New York City-owned buildings and facilities, including government offices, public parks, playgrounds, museums and recreation centers. It also requires city agencies to provide training to employees on transgender diversity and inclusion so they may better understand and serve these vulnerable and often mistreated communities.
Sadly, not every city and state provides the same protections as New York City. In fact, lawmakers in some cities are actively trying to codify gender identity discrimination by passing anti-transgender and anti-LGBT legislation.
At last count, legislators in 16 states have proposed 44 bills this year aimed at denying transgender individuals the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. Twenty-nine of those 44 bills deny transgender people equal access to bathrooms, locker rooms and other multiuser facilities, while 23 bills target children, denying them access to sports activities, facilities, and some by forcing them to use separate facilities entirely.
Proponents of anti-trans bills try to garner support through fear and misinformation, using the myth that allowing transgender people to access bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity will allow dangerous men to dress up as women and attack them in public restrooms.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Law enforcement officials, government employees and experts on gender-based violence in more than a dozen states with laws protecting transgender and gender nonconforming people in public accommodations have reported zero bathroom attacks. In fact, evidence suggests that transgender people, themselves, are more likely to be the victims of physical and sexual assaults.
Safe bathroom access is essential for everyone – cisgender, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals alike. Denying men, women, and children the right to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity is a violation of their basic human rights, and can lead to serious and chronic health issues. Many transgender individuals have reported adverse health effects from trying to avoid using public restrooms, such as dehydration, kidney infections and urinary tract infections.
We don’t get to pick our gender markers at birth, but we do get to choose city policies that either support our transgender brothers’ and sisters’ rights and freedoms or deny them the same respect and dignity we grant everyone else.
I am proud to call New York City home, and sincerely hope that other cities and states follow New York City’s lead in protecting the rights of the transgender and gender nonconforming men, women and children to live and work free from discrimination.