Women’s Safety and Transgender Accommodations


thWhile attending nursing school in the mid 80’s, my sister and I were using the ladies room when a transgendered student entered. We were unsure of how to handle the situation, because while it was clear that the student was male dressing as female, the student was also blind. I was reminded of this incident when I attended the Rutgers Undergraduate Research Writing Conference last week. A student was giving a presentation that highlighted his opinion that all public places should make accommodations for Transgendered Individuals (TGI). In some instances, TGI are asked to use a unisex restroom, rather than the male or female restroom. However this has been met with resistance because this is seen as discriminatory and does not allow TGI a right to choose. In a case of a university TGI who was asked to use a unisex bathroom, it was stated that the student had to “‘invert, to stretch, meaning rather than oneself…[and] became a mere floating signifier.’ In essence, the relegation of a transgender individual to a bathroom is akin to forcing blacks to a separate bathroom facility.”[1] Other solutions have included using a handicapped bathroom or creating a separate bathroom for TGI. But both of these have been discarded because TGI do not wish to be stigmatized in any way and, “do not wish to create a separate restroom facility for them, but rather they are hoping to use a facility based on the gender to which they identify.”[2] While the premise of this argument does not seem objectionable, further examination will show that such a solution, while solving the issue for the TGI, would open the doors for an entirely new problem for women, because women would no longer feel safe while using the restroom.

While all women’s restrooms have architectural barriers, women enter a public restroom under the premise that it is a safe zone for them. It is a place that even when the restroom is completely empty, a woman can use the toilet and adjust a strap, tug at pantyhose or touch up makeup in the common area, all without having to constantly be aware of her surroundings. We live in a world in which women are constantly in fear when traveling alone, going out after dark, walking to their car or even when they are stopped by a policeman on the highway. There are very few public places in which women can feel safe. In a high school in Colorado, the female students “[didn’t] feel safe in the bathrooms at Florence High School where a transgendered boy [was] allowed to enter the girl’s bathroom and locker rooms.” [3] The idea that a woman should feel safe, is not one that should be quickly discounted. The ability to feel safe and secure is one of the very basic Hierarchy of Needs required for both men and women for normal growth and development, as described by the psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Interestingly, at Florence High School the transgendered student “had allegedly been sexually harassing female students in the girl’s bathroom and locker room”[4] While most likely a TGI would not pose any harm to safety in a women’s restroom, it does open the door for other males who could possibly use the new policy as an opportunity to commit violent or sexual assault against women.

Violence and sexual assault against women is at an all-time high. “Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.”[5] Women have never felt more uncertain about their safety. Even worse, violence and sexual assault against women has been directly linked to a decline in the general health for women who have been victims. “Consistent with other studies, victims of abuse [are] more likely to experience various mood anxiety, and substance disorders and suicide tendencies. Abused women [are] also more vulnerable to poor perceived general physical health.”[6] Not only is the safety of women in jeopardy, but their very health and mental well-being are being threatened.

Opening women’s restrooms for TGI will encourage a possible “open door” for any male—even those with violent intentions and thus will endanger the safety of women. There are nearly 700,000 individuals in the United States who identify themselves as transgender or about 0.3% of the adult population[7]. On the other hand there are 160,780,238 or about 50.8% women in the United States[8]. Policies and accommodations should be made to protect more than half the population and not provide further opportunities to harm women.

[1] Weinberg, Jill D. “Transgender Bathroom Usage: A Privilege of Biology and Physical Differences in the Law” Buffalo Journal of Gender, Law and Social Policy. Vol 18. Issue 1 (2009-2010):149. Print.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chambers, Dean. “Colorado School Transgender Bathroom Policy Outrages Parents.” Arlington Examiner 7 Novemeber 2013: Print.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Unicef. “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Statistical Analysis of Violence against Children” http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_74865.html

[6] Lacey et al. “Severe Physical Violence and Black Women’s Health and Well-Being” American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 105. 4 (April 2015): 721. Print.

[7] Gary Gates. “How many people are Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender?” The Williams Institute. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/.

[8] US census Quick Facts http://census.gov/

5 comments on “Women’s Safety and Transgender Accommodations”

  1. Seems like their is no easy fix to this problem. However I also don’t think this is akin to the African-American experience under Jim Crow.

    1. Deloitte–I don’t think so either. A African-American female does not pose any danger to the other females in the restroom. However a male who is not TGI entering a female restroom would be a potential problem.

  2. Well said. I had an experience a couple of months ago in a public restroom that was TGI friendly. I was sitting in a stall when a person entered the next stall and went to the bathroom facing the toilet. I wondered that if one identified with the female, why would one not sit while relieving oneself?

    1. “I wondered that if one identified with the female, why would one not sit while relieving oneself?” I can only guess at the response, but just because someone identifies as female doesn’t mean they have female parts (yet). Trust me, if I had a choice I wouldn’t sit while peeing, either!

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