Tim Steller: Mean-spirited bathroom bill singles out transgender people

2013-03-22T00:00:00Z Tim Steller: Mean-spirited bathroom bill singles out transgender peopleTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

You've probably been traumatized over the last 14 years by all the transgender people in locker rooms and public restrooms around Tucson.

You have, right?

Since 1999, Tucson's city code has required equal access to public accommodations for transgender people.

That means people born with male genitalia but who live as females have been protected from discrimination and allowed by law to use female facilities. The same for those born as girls who identify themselves as males.

In case you can't detect my sarcasm, this has not caused big problems in Tucson. Phoenix passed a similar law on Feb. 27, despite strong objections from conservatives.

Now state Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is trying to eliminate laws such as those in Phoenix and Tucson out of fears either that transgender people will shock young children by exposing their genitalia in locker rooms, or that men will exploit the laws to enter women's facilities.

Kavanagh's proposal would be comic if it weren't cruel. It inflames a highly sensitive issue for people already vulnerable because they don't fit in.

"Bathrooms are really, really tricky," Rae Strozzo told me Thursday.

Strozzo sports a beard and, as far as an observer can see, is male. But before he began taking hormones eight years ago, he used female restrooms for most of his life, which could be tricky since his appearance as a young adult was ambiguous and he grew up in Georgia.

"I've had stuff thrown at me," he said. "I know of people who have had security guards called on them."

These days, Strozzo swims regularly at a Tucson gym, but he tries to avoid the locker room altogether.

Strozzo, programs coordinator of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, is a transgender person who has not gone through surgery. Under Kavanagh's proposal he would be forced to use women's rooms. And men who have gone through surgery to become women would have to use men's rooms.

Kavanagh's existing proposal would require people to use the locker room or restroom of the gender reflected on their birth certificate. Doing otherwise would be disorderly conduct, a Class 1 misdemeanor.

However, he told me Thursday that he plans to withdraw that proposal and replace it with one that doesn't involve criminal law.

"What I'm thinking of doing is simply precluding local jurisdictions from expanding access rights," he said.

In other words, Tucson's law would be superseded by a state law as it pertains to public facilities such as restrooms. The local laws' provisions banning discrimination against transgender people in hiring, housing and other activities would remain, Kavanagh said.

Another proposal, which passed the House Judiciary Committee Thursday as an amendment to SB 1178, would make it illegal for governments to place a "burden" on a person's religious beliefs. The idea is that local anti-discrimination laws could be placing a burden by forcing churches and businesses to accommodate transgender people equally.

For Kavanagh, whether he uses criminal law or not, the motivation for his efforts is the same.

"You can have a person who is transgendered who is anatomically male who is exposing himself to young girls in locker rooms," Kavanagh told me Thursday.

He said such situations have cropped up in Washington state and Oregon.

Notice he didn't mention Tucson?

Certainly Kavanagh is right that problems and awkward situations can crop up related to transgender people in locker rooms and restrooms. Still, about any serious misbehavior you can imagine is already covered by criminal law.

Arizona's voyeurism law, for example, is extremely broad: "It is unlawful to knowingly invade the privacy of another person without the knowledge of the other person for the purpose of sexual stimulation." Violation of that law is a felony.

Kavanagh also mentioned another motivation Thursday.

"Everybody I've spoken to says they're real uncomfortable when a transgender person is in the restroom," he said.

This strikes me as the real crux of the matter.

Many of us who aren't transgender don't want to face the existence of those who are. That's a pretty weak reason to make life harder for people who already have it tough.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter @senyorreporter

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