PHOENIX – A prominent Republican lawmaker in Arizona wants to link public bathroom use to birth certificates in what civil rights advocates are calling the nation’s toughest anti-transgender measure.
The bill would require people to use public restrooms, dressing rooms or locker rooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificate or face six months in jail.
The proposal had been scheduled for a vote Wednesday during a House of Representatives committee. But in an unusual scene for the usually staid halls of state government, men in dresses, women in business suits and other transgender supporters crowded into the committee room and the lobby of the House to protest the legislation.
Minutes after the meeting started, state Rep. John Kavanagh said he would delay the debate on his bill because of a paperwork error.
Arizona’s measure — and the response it received on Wednesday — reflects a growing national debate over what kind of restroom can be accessed by men and women presenting as a gender other than what they were born as.
With more people identifying as transgender, state and local governments are increasingly banning gender-identity discrimination to ward off legal battles, but opponents and proponents alike complain the laws don’t explicitly demand businesses provide equal access for transgender people, creating confusion over how governments, restaurants, clothing stores and other establishments must act.
One local TV station has dubbed Arizona’s legislation the “Show Me Your Papers Before You Go Potty” bill, a reference to the state Legislature’s sweeping 2010 immigration law.
Among those waiting to speak out against the bill on Wednesday was Phoenix resident Erica Keppler. She was born a man, but doesn’t feel comfortable in men’s bathrooms or locker rooms with her earrings, long hair and feminine clothing.
If the measure becomes law, Keppler said she will be forced to go to jail or expose herself as a transgender woman each time she uses a public bathroom, dressing room or locker room, which could potentially make her vulnerable to threats from men unsettled by her appearance.
“Most transgender people try to slip through public places without being noticed,” Keppler said. “This will turn us into criminals.”
The term transgender covers men and women whose identity does not match with their birth-assigned sex, including cross-dressers and people who don’t want to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.
Transgender people often have a hard time changing the gender on a birth certificate because many states require proof of gender treatment surgery, which is expensive and often not covered by health insurance. Other states, including Idaho and Ohio, do not allow birth certificate changes for gender, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Discriminating against transgender people is illegal in at least 16 states. More than 100 cities and counties have passed laws prohibiting gender-identity discrimination, including Phoenix.