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Gender variance and the bathroom question

author: elisabeth sahlmueller | contributor

Credit: Brett Nielsen
Credit: Brett Nielsen


One of the most important lessons that I learned as a child was never to judge a book by its cover. The same can be said of people, as it is what is on the inside that, in my opinion, has the most value. Individuals are hastily judged based on their biological sex, but this is not the only aspect that defines them, as multiple characteristics and features make up a person’s unique identity. Everyone should be able to feel comfortable with themselves, even when they express a different gender than their assigned sex and should not have to face issues that make daily tasks problematic, challenging, or dangerous. Recently, a law has been passed in Oxford, Alabama that gives a six-month jail sentence or $500 fine to anyone who uses the opposite bathroom from their perceived gender. Not only is this charge ridiculous, but it also places more importance on an individual’s gender rather than their identity, and I strongly believe it should be the other way around.

Everyone should be able to feel comfortable with themselves, even when they express a different gender than their assigned sex…”

This law was suggested by Oxford’s city council in retaliation to a statement made by the Target department store that it would allow both customers and employees to use the bathroom based on the gender identity they identify with; although this sounds fair, Oxford’s city council has disagreed with Target’s decision, stating that, “single-sex public facilities are places of increased vulnerability and present the potential for crimes against individuals utilizing those facilities.” While this may be true, there are always other areas that present a greater risk to someone than a public bathroom.

According to their city council, a person can only be charged if someone else reports the incident to the police, who then witnesses the so-called “crime.” This seems like a massive waste of time and resources for the police, when there are likely more serious issues in the city that should be given priority and dealt with. While it may be uncomfortable for someone to see a person who appears to be the opposite gender in a public washroom at the same time as them, I think its important to understand how uncomfortable that person feels having to choose which bathroom to use. The idea of punishing someone based on which one they do choose seems much too extreme.

The Human Rights Campaign has opposed this law because it works directly against people’s basic human rights. Eva Walton Kendrick, the campaign’s manager, has said, “transgender people are our neighbours…and every Alabamian has the right to live their life without fear of discrimination, or prejudice.” I agree, except this is true for everyone, not just those living in Alabama. Instead of issuing a ridiculous law, the city of Oxford should consider spending money and installing a gender-neutral bathroom in all public facilities. This way, everyone can use the bathroom without feeling they have to choose between female or male, and potentially face danger. Criminalizing gender identity also comes with serious repercussions. It makes people feel they have to commit to one gender based on their biological sex, which is deeply unfair to the individual. Everyone has enough problems in their life and knowing who they are should not be one of them.

Hearing about this law has made me realize how much emphasis is placed on stereotypical gender images in society, which is wrong and unfair. Instead, emphasis should be placed on an individual’s personality, skills, abilities, and relationships. Gender is not everything and does not determine who someone is. If we only judge a person based on what gender they appear, we never get the opportunity to truly get to know them.


  1. cnn.com
  2. thinkprogress.org
  3. advocate.com

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