This may be a contentious statement given that I am: a) not trans, and b) not living in North Carolina, Mississippi, or Alabama. But I am glad that bathroom bills have brought discrimination and harassment against trans people to national attention.
The fact of the matter is that denying trans people access to public restrooms did not start with bathroom bills. It was already an ongoing problem.
In the last few years, when US marriage equality was imminent, LGBT activists were worried about what would come next. For so long, marriage equality has been the LGBT issue in the US, as perceived by allies and outsiders. Activists themselves knew there were plenty of other issues like employment discrimination, trans healthcare, and de facto health and economic disparities. But if the general public starts to believe queer issues have already been solved, just like they believe for racism and sexism, then activists would run out of steam and funding.
For a while, I had been rooting for trans issues to come to the forefront. For too long, people have been using the LGBT acronym, even when it was clear that they were only thinking about gay and lesbian people. The priorities make little sense, given that both bisexual and trans people face more severe problems.
And yes, bathrooms are among those problems. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 26% of trans people in school have been denied access to gender-appropriate bathrooms at their schools, and 22% of working trans people have been denied access at their workplaces. More generally, 53% of trans people have been verbally harassed or disrespected in public spaces.
If you want something more anecdotal about bathrooms, here is a good article. Or I could tell you about the time I had to watch a friend stare uncertainly at those two bathroom doors. This was not North Carolina. It was San Francisco.
Of course, we should understand that increased visibility of trans issues is not always a good thing, because issues become more visible to opponents too. And if you’re used to talking about about LGB people, you might believe that trans people all need to come out of the closet, but the same narratives aren’t applicable. Lots of trans people may reasonably prefer to be invisible even in an ideal world.
Nonetheless, I believe, with caution, that bathroom rights are a good direction for activism. I like the mundanity of it. Before it was all about the triumph of love (which annoys my inner anti-romantic), and now it’s just about the right to pee in peace.
I like that even such people as Donald Trump oppose the bathroom bills. It fills me with hope that the the laws will be immediately slapped down, followed by backlash. One certainly hopes that the laws will be short-lived after having served their only positive purpose of bringing the issue to our attention…