Transgender Safety: How a Law Can Promote Harassment

Written by Guest Blogger: Afton Bradley

Often when we think of street harassment, we think one person or a group of people committing this harassment against another individual or group. We don’t often think about policies and laws which create an environment where harassment is more likely to happen. In the past few weeks, Arizona has been striving for such a law. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed a new draft of a bill that was originally created to prevent transgender persons from using their desired restroom. Phoenix had recently passed a law to protect transgender persons from being kicked out of locker rooms and bathrooms. This state level bill was a direct effort to overturn that law.
After advocacy efforts from the local and national LGBTQ community forced the original bill to be revised, this new bill found success in the House. The original bill, Arizona Senate Bill SB 1045, would prevent anyone from using a bathroom that did not match the gender listed on their birth certificate. Doing so would result in a class one misdemeanor with penalties of up to six months in jail and a $2500 fine. Instead, this new bill allows business owners the ability to make their own rules for private bathrooms and locker rooms.
As I said, many of us know harassment on a one-on-one level. But it is policies like this that already create an unsafe space to begin with. For many, like me, restrooms can be a scary encounter. If a transgender individual is read as being somewhere they don’t belong, we can expect verbal harassment which may lead to something worse. By having a law that already says we are not allowed here, we are giving the green light for others including law enforcement to harass us for something as simple as having to use the restroom. It was through great advocacy that this bill was reduced from its original intensity. However, how can someone comfortably eat at a restaurant, or shop in a store, knowing the moment they walk in a restroom it only takes one person to call them out. And not only that, the person who did so is just following the law.

Here’s my personal story:
I think often when we speak about transgender issues, that human voice and visibility is missing. Therefore, I feel it is important to share one of my own stories with bathroom harrassment. Often when I first was transitioning, I would do my best to avoid public restrooms. However, you can only control so much of your bodily functions. Unfortunately, that meant for me to need to use the restroom in a familiar place (which meant people knew me and knew about me). When you are transitioning from using the female restrooms to male restrooms a lot changes. You fear going into female restrooms because women constantly tell you that you are in the wrong restroom. They yell at you, and protect their children like you are going to hurt them. I normally would just leave, or if I was feeling extra sprite that day, explain I was a woman and show them my tampon. See, because as much as we fear that verbal harassment, I now fear the physical assault upon entering the men’s restroom. It’s hard to confront those who know you or strangers when they state you don’t have a penis, this means you are not a man, get out, freak, etc. All of these responses have been thrown at me, and I am left each time struggling with flight or fight responses. That fear of standing up to those when you are in such an isolated space, and the knowing that you do not have the physical stature for self-defense. For my friends and I, avoidance is our best strategy, just as when we pray they don’t pay attention to the F on our license when we get ID’d. It’s not only the physical threat that scares me when this happens, but the mental damage of constantly feeling threatened or fearing another assault as I choose what uniform to wear any given day: is it the straight male, the gay male, the butch female that will cause me the least harm, and moreso why must we choose what option means least harm. Which option will disarm those directing assaults at me.