Arizona lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it a criminal offense for transgender people to use public restrooms not associated with their birth gender. The proposed bill created so much controversy that it had to be delayed. Specifically, the proposed bill provides: “[A] person commits disorderly conduct if they intentionally enter a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room, and a sign indicates that the room is exclusively for the use of one sex, and that person is not legally classified as a member of that sex on their birth certificate.” The proposed bill makes a violation of the law a Class 1 misdemeanor that could include up to six months in prison or $2,500 in fines.  The bill provides exceptions for persons who enter as part of their job responsibilities; persons who enter to give aid or assistance to another; a child in need of assistance; and persons who are physically disabled.

The proposed bill was largely in response to a human rights ordinance passed by the Phoenix City Council that prohibits gender identity discrimination at public accommodations. State Representative John Kavanagh, who has spearheaded the proposed legislation, argues that the state should not allow people to use facilities based on “what you think you are.” He justifies the proposed law by claiming, “This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women … For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable just makes no sense.”

There are a number of interesting concerns that this bill raises. One of the chief concerns is how the law would be enforced. Some commentators have aptly noted that the law essentially requires showing papers just to use the bathroom. According to Representative Kavanagh, police officers would have to make judgment calls about when to enforce the law. Another concern with the proposed law is the negative impact it would have on transgender people. According to a recent National Gay and Lesbian Task Force study, fifty-three percent of transgender people report being harassed or disrespected in public accommodations. One commentator cleverly concludes, “The government should keep politics out of the bathroom and focus on other issues. The only ‘papers’ that anyone should have to worry about in the bathroom are Charmin and Angel Soft.”

The debate over the proposed bill also highlights the increased national discussion over transgender rights in recent months. Earlier this year, a six-year old transgender girl in Colorado filed a complaint with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights after her school barred her from using the female restroom after allowing her to do so for a year.

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