Transgender People and Single-Sex Spaces

Over the past year, as public policy debates about transgender rights have deepened — and anti-trans rhetoric has escalated — in state legislatures and in the courts, our nation has started learning more about who transgender people are — our neighbors, our co-workers, our fellow students, and our family members. 

The national discussion often focuses on what restroom transgender people should use, even though the range of issues affecting the community is much broader. When it comes to single-sex spaces and activities, the ACLU has a clear position: Transgender people can use facilities and participate in activities that match who they are. We believe it is not only the right answer from a human point of view, but it is also legally required by statutory and constitutional bans on sex discrimination.

We have taken that position while fighting anti-transgender bills in at least 17 states this past year as well as in court, where we represent transgender people in all three of the current cases challenging bans on transgender individuals’ use of restrooms consistent with their gender identity (in Virginia, North Carolina, and Illinois). The ACLU’s position derives from our core commitment to equality and reflects our decades-long work to fight sex discrimination, including on behalf of women, transgender people, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. 

Everyone has to use the restroom. Transgender people live their lives consistent with their gender identity (the internal sense we all have of our gender). When transgender individuals are barred from using restrooms that match who they are, they are essentially closed off from participating in public life. A transgender woman is a woman. To tell her (as to tell any woman) that she must use the men’s room undermines her identity. In addition, it subjects her to a real risk of violence. 

Similarly, a transgender man is a man. To tell him (as to tell any man) that he must use the women’s room undermines his identity and subjects him to a risk of violence and harassment. In addition, for many transgender people, living their gender in all parts of their lives, including when using single-sex spaces, is part of the medical treatment that is prescribed for them — it alleviates what would otherwise be significant distress. 

It’s no accident that this issue is surfacing now, as protections for transgender people increasingly become part of the national conversation. Restrooms have been center stage in prior civil rights fights, including for African-Americans, for men and women around the Equal Rights Amendment, in the context of fighting for access for people living with disabilities, and during the peak of the AIDS crisis, when homophobia fed fears of gay people using restrooms. Opponents of transgender equality are seeking to exploit the public’s lack of knowledge about transgender people to incite fear and stop any further progress for transgender rights or more broadly for LGBT rights. 

We’re in the midst of a major civil rights battle, one that’s likely to continue for some time. Thankfully, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education are fighting for equality with us.

The ACLU’s work on behalf of transgender people, including educating the public about who trans people are through our communications and advocacy work, is far from over.

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Anonymous

You are absolutely wrong. This issue has NOTHING to do with the transgender, that is simply a political lie. This issue is about protecting people, especially children, from the predators that we all know are in our society and who have already started to abuse this new freedom which has been provided for them. If you were true to the name of your organization, you would demand that an appropriate alternative was provided that would give the transgender the privacy that he or she needs without putting others at risk. That solution is simple; it can be accommodated with single-use bathrooms that you can lock. These single use bathrooms not only protect the privacy for the transgender but also make it available to for parent to assist a child of opposite gender who needs assistance. We have some facilities already out there labeled as "family" facitity and this facility would also be available to the transgender. While I applaud your effort to speak up for minorities who feel their needs are being ignored, it is simply irresponsible to force changes that put others at risk. Stop politicizing the issue and take an honest action that meets the need of the transgender while protecting the safety of all of our society as much as is humanly possible.

Anonymous

Trans people have existed for so long and has been using the gender appropriate restroom to their identity. There has not been a single incident of a trans person attacking or molesting anyone in restrooms. Meanwhile, numerous incidents of violence and harassment of trans folks in the restroom who really just want to do their own business.

HawkAtreides

Actually, the "privacy" and "protection" claims are the new lie to pretty up anti-trans efforts. This fight has been going on longer than you know, and until recently it's been in very honest terms - that trans people themselves are the problem, that they are mentally ill predators, that they intend to molest and rape and convert. Only now are we seeing the new face, the Southern Strategy reborn. Your "solution" is to force trans people to use an "Others" facility - "separate but equal" all over again. You're only advancing the agenda of bigots.

Anonymous

If you weren't an idiot, you would know that transgender is an adjective, not a noun.

Jay Sheckley

My transgranddaughter is 20. Creating a situation where she is at 70% risk of ending life by being murdered in a mens room does nothing to protect children. Second point: Whoever they were 3 decades ago, buff, bearded adult transmen shouldn't be forced to use the ladies'. And you won't like it, either. Thirdly, this fear, invented and politicized by the far right, has nothing to do with the realities of public safety. However this worry IS why women surgical patients recovering from breast cancer now are being glared at in public bathrooms. Enough!

Anonymous

I totally agree with you here. It opens the door for non-transgender perverts to take advantage of the opportunity that has opened. It is important to note that I'm not saying transgender people are perverts. I am concerned about perverts taking advantage of the situation. Why couldn't a rapist dressed as a woman have access to a situation that could put women in danger? And I believe that this will happen sooner or later. What about the rights and safety of the majority of the people who use the restrooms? I don't hate transgender people, I just don't think that their rights outweigh the rights of the majority. It seems to me that the family bathroom situation is most sensible solution to this issue. I sure wouldn't want to have to explain a transgender person to a young child who isn't old enough to process the reality of transgender people. Note to those of you who don't agree with me, please remember that I have a right to have my opinion also just as you do.

Protect women a...

STANDING OVATION!!!!!

Anonymous

"Why couldn't a rapist dressed as a woman have access to a situation that could put women in danger?"

There was nothing stopping them from doing it before.

The predator-stranger is the exception rather than the rule. Statistically speaking, a child is in more danger from any member of their family than they are from a stranger.

Keith Aragaki

Would it be appropriate for a business to designate a transgender restroom?

HawkAtreides

Ah yes, please go through the door marked "Other", and while you're at it, would you hold still while we paint a bullseye on your back?

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