Transgender refers to people whose gender identity, one’s inner sense of being male, female or something else, differs from their assigned or presumed sex at birth (cisgender refers to people whose gender identity is the same as their assigned or presumed sex at birth). Gender-nonconforming people don’t meet society’s expectations of gender roles. For transgender and gender-nonconforming people, even just walking through the door of a public restroom can be a stressful, scary experience. The mere possibility of hostile remarks from other restroom goers, questions from store owners or mall security or arbitrary restrictions from employers can be so frightening that many just “hold it.”
TGNC people get harassed in other situations too, but public restrooms tend to invite extra scrutiny based on comparisons to stereotypes about how men and women are supposed to look or act.
The solution is quite simple, in theory: Everyone should use the restroom that matches who they are, regardless of whether they are making a gender transition or appear gendernonconforming. But the realities of anti-transgender bias and a widespread lack of understanding about transgender people’s lives can complicate things.
Litigation in this area has been gaining traction in the past few years. A decade ago, some courts did not grasp the importance of this issue and saw restrooms as outside the realm of anti-discrimination laws. While a few of these states still have bad decisions on the books, states such as Maine and Colorado have been leading a new charge by recognizing the right of TGNC people to use the restrooms that match who they are both at school and at work.
This fact sheet is intended to help you advocate for what is right by using information about the medical and historical context of gender transition and practical ideas for improving access to public accommodations.