Back to the Bathroom


Michael Tew

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has introduced legislation to bar individuals from using the restroom corresponding to their gender identity. Similar to the highly controversial North Carolina HB2 that did the same thing (along with banning local governments from passing civil rights ordinances), the proposed legislation is opposed by businesses and business associations, LGBT advocacy groups, and progressives. This development comes as a disappointment but no surprise as social conservatives across the country are feeling emboldened by the results of November elections. Sticking to legitimate studies and facts, here are some consequences to this kind of draconian legislation.

From the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (sponsored in part by the National Center for Transgender Equality), of the Transgender individuals surveyed,

59% have avoided bathrooms in the last year because they feared confrontations in public restrooms at work, at school, or in other places.

12% report that they have been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom in the last year.

31% have avoided drinking or eating so that they did not need to use the restroom in the last year.

24% report that someone told them they were using the wrong restroom or questioned their presence in the restroom in the last year.

9% report being denied access to the appropriate restroom in the last year.

8% report having a kidney or urinary tract infection, or another kidney-related medical issue, from avoiding restrooms in the last year.

According to the Williams Institute, a think tank and research center housed at the UCLA Law School, conducted a bathroom experience survey of 93 transgender and gender nonconforming people in Washington, D.C., “About 70 percent of the sample reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms and even experiencing some forms of physical assault,” says the studies author Jody Herman.

Called the Texas Privacy Act, the only privacy effect the legislation seems to have is to take away the privacy of Transgender individuals. Alison Gill, vice chair of the Trans United Fund, says some people just don’t understand that when it comes time for a transgender person to start using the other restroom, they’d rather do it privately, and with as little fuss as possible. An inquisition into a person’s birth record is in itself a privacy violation and is practically unenforceable on a large scale. The only purpose of such legislation is a public declaration of intolerance. Besides the moral bankruptcy of policies like these, there are potentially more dire human consequences,

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Homosexuality found a significant statistical association between denial of access and suicide attempts, suggesting that “there may be a distinct relationship between the stress of not being able to use bathrooms…and one’s mental health.”

As reported in Newsweek (5/1/16), 25% of those surveyed said “they had been denied access to campus restrooms. (The study did not specify how respondents were denied, but says they may have been by students, campus security or another way.) Of those people, 60.5 percent said they had attempted suicide. For those who said they hadn’t been denied access, the percentage was 43.2. In other words, transgender people who were denied access were 1.45 times as likely to have attempted suicide as those who had not been denied access.”

For readers or audiences disinterested in human consequence, perhaps some economic effects might be informative. A study conducted by the Texas Association of Business showed such legislation in Texas could result in economic losses ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion for the state. North Carolina’s experience suggests that statistics like that are real and repeatable.

In the name of privacy, right? Whose privacy? The folks who might freak out because they have invaded the privacy and intruded on a person doing the one of the most personal things people do? Hardly. Real privacy legislation might encourage us all to keep to ourselves when using a restroom.



About Equality Research Center

The mission of the Equality Research Center is to promote, support, and disseminate research focused on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender equality and human rights. The Center is dedicated to the advancement of Equality by connecting academic, evidence based research to community action, public policy, and curricular innovation.
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