Ask Lambda Legal: Bathroom Access for Transgender People

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June 12, 2013
Lambda Legal Transgender Rights Project Director M. Dru Levasseur

Q: I’m a transgender person and was recently questioned by an employee of a local restaurant when I went to use the bathroom. What should I do if this happens again?

A: There is no law that says a person must look a certain way to use a certain restroom, but unfortunately, this type of “gender policing” is very common. Lambda Legal’s help desk often gets calls from people who wanted to use a restroom that matches their gender identity, but because they don’t fit someone else’s standards for what a certain gender should look like, they were questioned or denied access to that restroom. This can happen in schools, places of public accommodation like restaurants, and places of employment.

If this happens again, stay calm so that you can read the situation—and figure out whether or not you’re safe. You can always leave the scene if you feel threatened and come back later with a friend to file a complaint. If you feel safe, report the incident to a manager, owner or someone in charge. Explain to them that you are using the right bathroom. If you are still denied access to the appropriate bathroom, you can file a complaint with your local or state anti-discrimination agency. Denial of access to the appropriate bathroom for transgender people could be considered sex discrimination under the law. You may also live in one of the 16 states, Washington, D.C., or more than 156 cities and counties where there are specific protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Gender neutral bathrooms are increasingly common in places of public accommodation and places of employment and some transgender people report that access to these bathrooms allows them to not worry about being harassed. If you think it’s possible, try and advocate for a gender neutral bathroom where you work.

Transgender people should be able to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity and should not be singled out as the only people using any particular restroom, gender neutral or otherwise. The medical community (and increasingly, employers, schools and courts) recognize that it is essential to the health and well-being of transgender people for them to be able to live in accordance with their internal gender identity in all aspects of life-and that restroom usage is a necessary part of that experience.

Read our FAQ About Restrooms & What to Do If You’re Hassled.

If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your gender identity/expression, please contact our Help Desk.