Today brings good news for transgender advocates and individuals when it comes to bathroom options; the White House added its first gender-neutral restroom to its offices. It's being viewed as a victory for trans folk everywhere, especially in the wake of several states creating transphobic Bathroom Bills that, if passed, could bar transgender individuals from using bathrooms in single-sex public facilities, prosecute businesses for letting trans folk use different restrooms than those for the gender they were assigned at birth, and even allow people who see a trans person using the bathroom to file claims for damages.
The White House released the news yesterday, when White House spokesman Jeff Tiller revealed that not only do the offices of the Obama administration have such a restroom, but that the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where most of the presidential staff work, now has one as well.
The President's senior advisor Valerie Jarrett published an article in the Advocate yesterday as well, where she wrote about the importance of protecting LGBT workers. The Obama administration unrolled an executive order last year that bars all employers who do business with the government from discriminating against LGBT individuals. She stated that after looking closely at the administration's own policies, which include restroom access, they have created gender-neutral restrooms to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable, no matter what their gender identity may be. "Today marks another important step forward in our collective journey toward justice and equality." she wrote. "This is progress which should only serve to feed our shared desire to continue moving forward toward the more perfect union we have each been charged to pursue."
Although employees of the federal government have been able to utilize whatever bathroom they choose since 2011, they could only choose between the men's and women's restrooms, with no gender-neutral options available to them until now. If you're wondering why the distinction is important, many transgender individuals do not identify as men or women, falling outside the gender binary that's heavily enforced in our society. These folks might identify as genderqueer, or gender-nonconforming, although not all of these identifying people consider themselves to be trans. In addition, sex-specific bathrooms can not only invalidate trans people's gender identities, but can also out them to others who may not know that they are transgender, which increases their risk for facing discrimination and even violence.
This is why it is great news to see the federal government taking steps forward to increase the rights and freedoms of transgender individuals. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go though, as I mentioned earlier that several states have introduced legislation that would criminalize trans people's bathroom usage. Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arizona, and Kentucky have all introduced such legislation, which is a major step backwards. No one should be prosecuted for using a restroom, no matter what their gender identity or expression are. If you want to stand up and fight back against this legislation, you can sign this Change.org petition that so far has 6,000 signatures in protest of Florida's bathroom bill.
Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says that this move by the White House represents progress and is great timing, considering all of the bathroom bills on the ballot. “It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender non-conforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense." she said. I couldn't agree more.
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