How Tennessee’s Transgender Business Bathroom Bill Poses a Major Health Risk
In August of 2020, Lauren Jackson was spending a summer day at the Agate State Beach Park in Oregon. That’s when a routine visit to the women’s restroom turned dangerous. A man attacked Jackson. The stranger beat her and broke her jaw before he fled the park.
Jackson is transgender, and the assailant confronted her for using the women’s bathroom.
Almost a year has passed since Jackson was attacked, and Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee has signed a new bathroom law. The legislation would force all businesses in the state to publicly display a sign specifying if they encourage transgender customers to use the restroom of their choice. Nashville’s District Attorney (DA) General Glenn Funk and the Human Rights Campaign have spoken out against Lee’s bill.
If Lee’s bill goes into effect in July, all businesses who welcome transgender customers will be forced to advertise this sign: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.” Municipal DAs would be responsible for overseeing the bill, and entrepreneurs who fail to comply can face fines or jail time.
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No other state has used signs to clearly mark LGBT-friendly establishments.
Some transgender community members posit that these signs can provide a helpful designation for which businesses to support and which to avoid. Other individuals fear that the bill could provoke more instances of harassment and abuse.
Why might House Bill 1182 be more dangerous than allowing people to freely use the bathrooms of their choice? A similar North Carolina bathroom bill may forecast the repercussions.
In 2016, previous North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory banned transgender people from using the bathroom in which they were most comfortable. He said that transgender-friendly bathrooms “could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy.” These warnings of sexual abuse, of men disguising themselves to prey on women using the restrooms, had no merit. Trans-welcoming bathrooms and locker rooms did not experience higher rates of assault or violence, according to a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. However, this misplaced fear led some community members to take it upon themselves to police the bathrooms for people who may be transgender.
Unlike the North Carolina bill, Tennessee’s House Bill 1182 does not outright ban transgender people from using the appropriate bathroom. However, the mandatory labeling of transgender-friendly businesses can still pose risks. Businesses, churches, and health centers across the nation have reported anti-LGBT+ graffiti. In Tennessee, some business owners fear that posting the required signs advertising their bathroom policies could result in anti-trans graffiti or property damage. Such vandalism is expensive to repair when many businesses are financially struggling after the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an interview with News Channel 5, the owners of Nashville’s Darkhorse Theater describe the bill as “mean-spirited”. “I’m not a doctor,” says co-owner Peter. “I don’t have the capacity to examine every one of our patrons and determine which bathroom they’re supposed to go to.”
More importantly, transgender Tennesseans worry for their safety. Transgender customers may avoid using the restroom if they fear that other customers may question their gender. Alphonso David, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, states, “Denying transgender people the ability to access a bathroom consistent with their gender identity is degrading and dehumanizing — and can have real health and safety consequences.”
When a transgender person avoids using restrooms outside of their own home, they may hold their bladder for hours on end. Over time, holding one’s bladder can lead to several serious health problems like urinary tract infections and incontinence.