On July 29, 2001 in Nashville, Tennessee, 38-year-old Willie Houston was celebrating his recent engagement with his fiancée and friends; he and his fiancée had taken a late night cruise together on a local casino riverboat. At the end of the evening, Willie held his fiancée’s purse when she took a trip to the restroom. One of Willie’s friends, who happened to be blind, also had to use the restroom, so Houston took him by the arm and led him into the men’s room while still holding the purse.
Quoting the Gay & Lesbian Times as to what occurred next:
Less than 30 minutes later, Houston was shot dead in the parking lot, having spent the last half-hour of his life having anti-gay epitaphs yelled at him. Houston’s fiancée, Jones, gave a eulogy instead of her wedding vows.
Elsewhere, transwoman Christina Sforza was assaulted on July 10 of this year by a manager at a Manhattan McDonald’s — specifically for using the women’s bathroom. Christina had specific permission from another employee at the restaurant to use the women’s restroom; however, the restaurant manager threatened to “kill her” and beat her with a lead pipe while other McDonald’s employees shouted “kill the faggot” for use of the women’s restroom.
Christina’s friends, with whom she was eating, called the police. The police officers refused to take a complaint — instead they arrested Christina for assault. Her subsequent attempts to file a complaint against the McDonald’s manager with the police were unsuccessful –she was threatened with a “filing a false report” charge.
Elsewhere still, Helena Stone has worked in Grand Central Station where she’s repaired telephones. The 70-yearl old transgender woman had been arrested three times during a six month period this year for attempting to use the women’s restroom. She stated that an MTA officer called her “a freak, a weirdo and the ugliest woman in the world” and warned her, “If I ever see you in the women’s bathroom, I’m going to arrest you.” New York City’s MTA recently settled her complaint, paying her $2000.00 legal fees.
Peeing in peace. Most people take it for granted that when they go to a public rest room in a shopping mall, a restaurant, or other public space that they are relatively safe. For transpeople, as well as other people who don’t fit within the purview of gender appearance norms, every public restroom is a potential place of arrest and/or violence.
For how much of an issue public restrooms are for those who don’t conform to gender appearance norms, the Transgender Law Center’s Peeing in Peace defines the problem as follows:
For many transgender people, finding a safe place to use the bathroom is a daily struggle. Even in cities or towns that are generally considered good places to be transgender (like San Francisco or Los Angeles), many transgender people are harassed, beaten, and questioned by authorities in both women’s and men’s rooms. In a 2002 survey conducted by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, nearly 50% of respondents reported having been harassed or assaulted in a public bathroom. Because of this, many transgender people avoid public bathrooms altogether and can develop health problems as a result. This not only affects people who think of themselves as transgender, but also many others who express their gender in a non-stereotypical way but who may not identify as transgender (for instance, a masculine women or an effeminate man).
Recognizing this potential of violence, many colleges and universities in North America have taken to designating certain restrooms as gender neutral. In fact, most people have seen and used the model for gender neutral restrooms — gender neutral restrooms often are those single stall restrooms with the international symbol for handicapped restrooms.
Families make use of these gender neutral restrooms too. Fathers with young daughters and mothers with young sons appreciate the safe, family friendly atmosphere of small, gender neutral restrooms.
So from a safety and privacy perspective, these aren’t just public “transgender” bathrooms, but are bathrooms for transpeople, handicapped people, and families with small children. What’s not to like about providing gender neutral bathrooms as an option at colleges and universities?
Well, self-identified former homosexual Sylvia Bertolini doesn’t like the idea of providing safe restrooms for gender variant people. In a letter to the University of Calgary Gauntlet, she states:
As a former homosexual, I can confirm that change is possible, and that people are not born gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered or other. We are either male or female. One needs only look at our physical make up to realize this truth and thus, one should act according to one’s bodily form. To be more specific, since it seems that this may be necessary, if someone was born with male physiology, one is male, thus one should simply go to the men’s washroom. If someone was not born with a penis, then one should go to the women’s washroom.
One thing that helped me in my recovery, was to look at myself in a mirror without my clothes on, and thank God prayerfully for every part of me and especially for having created me a woman. We need to accept our sexuality and not run from it. We are either male or female.
Adding a new washroom for people struggling with this issue is not the solution. I am truly disappointed in the psychology, sociology, social work and other departments for their failure in addressing this need for people who are hurting in this way.
I believe the Intersex Society of North America might take issue with the idea that we all are born either male or female.
And, here at XGW, we’ve commented on the idea that gender identity and sexual orientation aren’t the same thing. With that in mind, it’s bothersome to me that this is the second time this week we’ve seen a self-identified former homosexual believing their former homosexual identification makes him or her an expert on gender identity issues. Gay isn’t transgender; ex-gay isn’t ex-transgender. Personal experience with homosexuality or transgenderism doesn’t automatically make one an expert on the other.
But even beyond that idea that our sex is fixed by our Creator at birth as male or female, the argument being made by Sylvia Bertolini is gender variant people should be subject to restroom violence because “change is possible.” Accept reparative therapy — or else.
When “change is possible” dogma becomes the preferred “solution” for restroom violence, then it’s pretty clear to me that the “change is possible” message has a morally bankrupt edge to it. Giving gender variant people, handicapped people, or parents with small children the option of gender neutral restrooms should be considered a reasonable solution when anti-violence measures, safety, and/or privacy is valued above dogma.