Restroom roulette in Arizona

by Daniel James Devine
Posted 3/28/13, 05:37 pm

On Wednesday an Arizona House panel approved a bill that would allow business owners to stop transgender people from using restrooms other than those corresponding to their birth sex. As the 7-4 vote occurred, split along party lines, a group of transgender people and their supporters cried, “Shame, shame, shame!”

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh sponsored the bill in reaction to a Phoenix ordinance passed last month that gives a transgender person the right to enter locker rooms, showers, and restrooms of whatever gender he or she publicly identifies with. The new bill would protect businesses from criminal charges if they refused to allow, for example, a biological man who identifies as a woman from entering a women’s restroom.

At least 16 states have passed laws preventing certain forms of what’s considered transgender discrimination. Phoenix is just one of more than 100 cities and counties that have passed local anti-discrimination laws.

Before the Wednesday committee vote, several transgender witnesses expressed their opposition to the bill. “I don’t want to be discriminated against, and I’m scared to go to a male washroom,” said Patty Medway, who was born male but dresses and identifies as a woman. Medway said he has used women’s restrooms for 15 years without a problem.

Tucson resident Claire Swinford, also born a man but now identifying as a woman, told lawmakers he was afraid of being attacked by a man if he entered a male restroom dressed as a female. “What your bill attempts to do is sacrifice my personal safety for somebody else’s sense of discomfort.”

But one Phoenix small business owner said the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance was discriminating against his own views. “The way I feel, this is just the liberal left forcing their views on the rest of us,” said Nohl Rosen.

The bill the House’s Appropriation Committee passed was significantly different from one Kavanagh originally introduced, which would have made it a crime for transgender people to use restrooms other than those designated for their birth sex. After advocacy groups and some members of Kavanagh’s own party criticized the criminal designation as extreme, he rewrote the bill to give businesses the choice of permitting or prohibiting transgender-accessible facilities without fear of prosecution.

“The Phoenix City Council went way beyond rationality,” Kavanagh told me. He said the city’s policy has created a situation where private businesses can’t prevent a transgender person from undressing in gender-specific locker rooms or showers: “In the case of a man who thinks he’s a woman, exposing himself to women and young girls.”

Businesses owners who try to prevent such activity could get sued and be branded as criminals under the Phoenix ordinance, Kavanagh said.

The bill will next proceed to the full House for a vote, which Kavanagh hopes will occur within the next few weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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