Conservative state legislatures around the country have been trying to pass bills that will prevent access to bathrooms based on gender identity, specifically restricting access for trans women. This is hateful, aimed at a tiny minority that is already discriminated against in so many ways. But on my travels over the weekend, I thought of a bathroom bill that would benefit everyone and passing it would be a much better use of everyone’s time.
There used to be a time when I could drive for long distances without having to stop to use the bathroom. I recall on one occasion driving non-stop from Cleveland to Philadelphia, a journey that took about seven hours, without stopping for anything at all. But I was younger then. Those days are long gone and on my trip to Los Angeles and San Diego I found myself having to stop to use the facilities several times.
When on the road, there are three options for bathroom use: the rest areas provided by the state, restaurants, and gas stations. Not all roads have rest areas and sometimes they are out of commission or spaced too far apart. You can usually find restaurants, especially fast food ones, and they used to be my bathrooms of choice but on this trip, because of covid-19, many places that I stopped at were only allowing drive-through or pick up and the restaurant area (including the bathroom) was closed off. That left just the gas stations. The cleanliness of these places is highly variable and there were occasionally signs that said that the restrooms were only for customers, though no one stopped me and asked me to buy something before using it. I suspect that it is because I am not part of a demographic that is automatically viewed with suspicion. Recall the case of the two black men at a Starbucks who had the police called on them when they tried to use the bathroom before ordering something. Eight police officers were called to make the arrest, though video clearly showed that the men were peaceful. Apparently using the restroom without first ordering something is (or at least used to be until this highly publicized case) a violation of Starbucks policy, a policy that I suspect was highly selectively enforced.
Going to the bathroom is a basic biological function and it is odd that we do not guarantee access to one to the general public. Surely it would not be hard to pass a law that requires all gas stations and restaurants to allow anyone to use their facilities. It might add a small extra cost in terms of cleaning the bathrooms and stocking them but that would become part of the routine cost of doing business with the public.
It should be noted that if someone is desperate and stops and goes behind some bushes to relieve themselves in an emergency, they can be arrested and fined or worse. And yet, that is sometimes the only option available to people.