As a woman who occasionally uses the men's bathroom to avoid the line for the women's, I take particular interest in the "bathroom bans" being passed by states that would criminalize me for eschewing the bathroom patriarchy. Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville) proposed one of the most egregious versions of the bill back in December 2015 that would have criminalized people for using the wrong bathroom with up to a year in jail, and fine them up to $5,000. For perspective, that's a harsher penalty than Johnny Manziel faces for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
Indiana's lawmakers were busy making women's healthcare decisions last session, so the bill died in committee, but you might be wondering why the state of Indiana has suddenly sniffed out a need to criminalize people for using the wrong bathroom. For this solution in search of a problem, we turn to North Carolina.
The city of Charlotte recently passed an ordinance protecting LGBT persons from discrimination in several public places including bathrooms. In response, the state of North Carolina passed an anti-anti-discrimination law that bans local governments from enforcing any non-discrimination ordinances. It effectively nullifies a dozen such ordinances in the state. It also forces schools to violate Title IX by requiring them to ensure students use separate bathrooms matching the biology they were born with.
It is being sold to the public as a necessary deterrent to crimes against women and children in bathrooms. To be clear, state lawmakers insist they aren't worried that transgender people themselves are sexual deviants. They're worried that sexually deviant men will throw on a wig and some rouge to gain access to these facilities – so the obvious solution is to punish law-abiding citizens for having the audacity to use the bathroom.
Point out the tens of thousands of gun deaths each year, and these same Republicans will insist any attempt to reduce them is a tyrannical violation of their 2nd Amendment rights. But give them one documented incident of a man cross-dressing to gain access to a women's bathroom, and suddenly the mere possibility of this scenario rises above tragedies like Sandy Hook that occur on a regular basis. The cross-dressing man was charged with six counts of unlawful use of a concealed camera for the purposes of sexual gratification. An additional law wasn't necessary to secure justice.
I'm just speculating, but maybe sentencing men who assault women to harsher penalties would be a more effective deterrent than banning trans women from bathrooms.
Bathroom bans unnecessarily punish transgender people. As Lara Nazario, a Charlotte resident and trans woman, explained, "If I were to walk into a men's bathroom, I would either be told that I'm in the wrong bathroom or I'd be outed as a trans woman. This can often lead to violence or harassment, especially when there's no protection in place for people like me."
As a result of North Carolina's law, businesses like PayPal have withdrawn a planned expansion that would have created 400 jobs, Bruce Springsteen canceled his performance in that state, and the NBA announced it is changing venues for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and Weekend. Others are following suit.
It's unclear how much North Carolinians are willing to give up to eliminate an imaginary bathroom boogeyman, but it's clear to the discerning that these laws are an overreaching response to an exaggerated threat. Women are far more likely to be victimized by someone they know than by a stranger in a public bathroom.
If we're not going to demand unisex bathrooms, then let's at least refrain from criminalizing people for the simple act of urinating.