A new study from the Williams Institute confirms that transgender people face significant levels of discrimination and harassment simply when trying to use the restroom. The study focused on people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming/genderqueer in the Washington, DC area and found that an overwhelming majority — 70 percent — had experienced some sort of negative reaction when using a bathroom. The study notes that this is in spite of the fact that DC’s enforcement regulations contain “the strongest language in the country in regard to gender-segregated public facilities” to protect trans people from just these sorts of issues.
The primary experience trans people reported was verbal harassment, with 68 percent reporting they were told they were in the wrong facility, told to leave the facility, questioned about their gender, ridiculed or made fun of, verbally threatened, or stared at and given strange looks. Some also shared that the police were called and others noted that they were followed after using a facility. For 9 percent of respondents, actual physical assault has also occurred, including being forcibly removed from the restroom, hit or kicked, intimidated or cornered, or slapped; one respondent reported being sexually assaulted.
Moreover, 18 percent of respondents reported they were simply denied access to a restroom. Several of them were students whose education suffered because of this discrimination, in part because of excessive absences. Those who experienced issues in the workplace felt it contributed to poor job performance, and some even changed jobs or simply quit their jobs to avoid the confrontations.
There were health consequences for respondents as well, with 54 percent reporting physical complications like dehydration, urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and other kidney problems simply because of the tactics they used to avoid going to the restroom during the day. Many health facilities also have gender-segregated restrooms, which discourages individuals from seeking treatment for these conditions. As many as 58 percent have avoided going out in public at times because of bathroom concerns.
The study concludes by suggesting that society rethink gender segregation altogether:
Transgender and gender non-conforming people can find themselves in danger in the gendered spaces in our built environment. Until public policy and public administration can meet the challenge to address this problem and rethink our reliance on gender segregation in our built environment, the onus will always be on the individual to try to navigate these spaces safely. In considering the role gender segregation plays in our environment, we should consider whether gender segregation is necessary to organize our public spaces. This is something that many legislators, public officials, and administrators are currently grappling with as transgender and gender non-conforming people have increased their visibility, formed political coalitions in the United States, and organized to make known the issues and problems they encounter in our society. While some jurisdictions have responded to the call to make changes to their policies and public spaces, many have not yet taken on this challenge but undoubtedly must face it in the future.
Previous studies have confirmed that trans people experience abhorrently high levels of discrimination, including in employment and housing in addition to public accommodations like restrooms. What is gained by forcing people to conform to strict cisgender norms remains unclear.