News (USA)

Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide

“We’ve protected gay and transgender people from discrimination in Washington for 10 years, with no increase in public safety incidents as a result,” he said. “It’s important to remember that indecent exposure, voyeurism, and sexual assault, are already illegal, and police use those laws to keep people safe.”

A current sheriff, John Urquhart of the Seattle area’s King County, also defends the existing law. “I’m the father of two daughters. I’m not concerned,” he says.

On the other side of the country, similar arguments are percolating in Massachusetts, which — despite its liberal tendencies — is not among the states banning discrimination against transgender people in restrooms and other public accommodations.

A bill to do that is advancing through the state legislature this spring. The state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, has not committed to signing the bill if it reaches his desk but has said he opposes discrimination in any form.

To assuage critics who say male sexual predators might take advantage of the proposed change by claiming to identify as female, language has been added to the House version of the bill to allow legal action against anyone who makes an “improper” claim of gender identity.

Some critics of the bill were unimpressed by the addition, citing concerns about privacy.

“It still offers no protections to women and children who don’t want to be eyed by or exposed to naked men in locker rooms or other intimate spaces,” said Jonathan Alexandre, legal counsel for the Massachusetts Family Institute.

In South Carolina, lawmakers considered — but did not approve — a bill that would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms based on their biological sex. In opposing the bill, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said it addressed “a nonissue.”

Elsewhere, the bathroom debate has flared on the local level. In the Dallas suburb of Rockwall, city councilors rejected the mayor’s push to block transgender people from using the public bathrooms of their choice. In Oxford, Alabama, the city council approved such a restriction, complete with criminal penalties, then repealed it a week later.

The issue jumped into the spotlight last fall, after the Houston City Council adopted a wide-ranging nondiscrimination ordinance that included protections for transgender people using restrooms based on gender identity.

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