Imagine you are out shopping one day and, after gulping down a delicious drink of near obscene size, you suddenly have a rather urgent need for a restroom. You glance at the mall map and dart to the nearest facilities. You don’t notice your surroundings much, but there is someone at the sink. When you come out to wash your hands, there are two more someones. Cops. They ask for your ID, but you forgot it in your other bag. Before you know it, they have handcuffed you and are reading you your rights.
“What did I do wrong?” you protest as they march you out, mortified and confused.
“You’ve been accused of committing disorderly conduct by entering the bathroom inappropriate to your sex, as determined by your appearance. We will determine whether or not this is the case with an examination at the police station.”
Sound crazy? Well, if you are in Arizona, it could be reality very soon. If Senate Bill 1432 passes, the criminal code will include the following addition:
“A person commits disorderly conduct if the person intentionally enters a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room and a sign indicates that the room is for the exclusive use of persons of one sex and the person is not legally classified on the person’s birth certificate as a member of that sex.” (Proposed House of Representatives Amendments to S.B. 1432)
Of course, the example I gave is unlikely to happen to a Cisgender individual (or a person whose gender matches up with their assigned gender at birth, normally determined by genitalia) who expresses at least some of the gender traits society expects of them. The people who will most likely be affected by this law are Transgender individuals (individuals whose gender identity does not correspond to their assigned gender/sex organs), a minority that comprises only 0.3% of Americans (Study Shows How Many Americans Are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender).
In essence, this law makes being Transgender itself criminal and, according to the State, morally wrong. Public restrooms are for use by the public; by singling out (or rather, scapegoating) a certain type of person and saying they are not allowed to use the bathroom fitting to their gender identity, the Majority is using its influence to take rights from a Minority.
Anyone who studies and values Democracy should have warning bells ringing at such an act. Our founding fathers worried about the dangers of majority rule, especially absolute majority rule without consideration for minorities. To quote Alexis de Tocqueville,
“If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach? Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with their strength. For my own part, I cannot believe it; the power to do everything, which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.” (Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Essential Principles)
Throughout the United States’ history, we have seen such misuse of power over and over through discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, class, and now in Arizona, gender identity. But this particular act is especially abhorrent due to the extremely small percentage of Transgender individuals; they are, in fact, more vulnerable than any other minority that has had to fight tooth and nail for their rights and are too often ignored or vilified by mainstream groups fighting for equality.
Laws like this make it easy for the population to view those afflicted by them as lesser, or even subhuman. For transgender individuals, this is as dangerous as the legislation is unjust. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released a report with the horrifying finding that 50% of LGBT murders in 2009 and 44% of LGBT murders in 2009 were of transgender women (Anti-Transgender Violence: How Hate Crime Laws Have Failed). And this is the most extreme act of hate; more minor, but still potentially devastating, hate crimes and discrimination against transgender individuals are widespread.
This climate is literally fatal. 41% of transgender people have attempted to commit suicide and 19% report being denied medical care due to their gender identity (Transgender Americans face high suicide risk). Yet another discriminatory law is going to do nothing to help this dismal reality, and in fact will likely make it worse for transgender individuals living not only in Arizona, but other states that may adopt similar legislation if this passes and is not overturned by the court.
Furthermore, the motivations behind this bill appear retaliatory. Last month, the Phoenix City Council voted to prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens. Some council members believe this proposed law is designed to show disapproval for this attempt to create a more tolerant city, and considering the timing and the absurdity of government officials, this is a reasonable suspicion (Phoenix mulls law limiting transgender restroom use).
The fact is, this law is unjust. That is all too clear. But perhaps more importantly, it is bad for Arizona, or at the very least in no way beneficial even to the majority. Why is the government creating such pointless and cruel legislation, when it is their job to pass laws and enact policy to improve the well-being of the state? It is a waste of time, resources, and if it passes, money to enforce the law and defend it against the well-deserved legal challenges that will come. That is a question that should be asked of any legislator attempting to pass laws that regulate morality or punish individuals who do not conform to societal norms. Arizona legislators are hardly alone in deserving such questioning, and it is time that voters demand to know just whose interests the people who represent them are advocating for. In this writer’s opinion, it certainly does not appear to be their constituents, or even in any way related to the tenets of the Constitution.