Recently in Arkansas, the House Judiciary Committee approved the proposal allowing someone to be charged with misdemeanor sexual indecency with a child under 7 if they use a public restroom or changing room of the opposite sex when a minor is present. The proposal and the discussions sparked by its existence garnered a lot of criticism and controversy.
The Republican Party-majority committee advanced with the new law after it was amended to make it a crime only if the person enters the restroom for the purpose of arousal, which would be difficult to prove. Despite this, the Republican lawmaker behind the vote, Sen. John Payton, expressed he did not want this law to target transgender people but “bad actors that are in there for sexual gratification to misbehave.” Additionally, Sen. Payton admitted how challenging it would be to actually charge someone with this offense, according to PBS.
However, this law still unfairly targets transgender people if they were to enter their preferred gender’s restroom and a child was present with or without their knowledge. With the language Sen. Payton uses, he is classifying and reducing transgender people to “bad actors” and sexual deviants when neither of those is the case. This law establishes the trans community as an “other” and a monolith to be feared, not human beings.
Transgender and nonbinary teenagers with restricted bathroom access are at higher risk of sexual assault than their cisgender peers. Researchers analyzed data from 3,673 teens in the LGBTQ Teen Study, an anonymous online survey of U.S. kids aged 13 to 17, all of whom were told they could not use locker rooms or restrooms the same as their sexual identity, according to Harvard.edu.
More than one out of every four students in the study reported being a victim of sexual assault. Transgender and gender-nonbinary teens with restroom or locker room restrictions had an even higher prevalence of sexual assault at 36%.
Their identities have become so heavily politicized, bringing an abundance of negative attention to these students only trying to live their lives. Gabriel Murchison, the lead author of the study and doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained the study only established association, not that the restrictions themselves caused the sexual assault, according to CNN.
Nevertheless, toxic environments with bathroom and locker room restrictions present are proven to be a part of the problem and putting transgender teens at high risk.
Bathroom restrictions make other students aware of their transgender or nonbinary peers' status as gender minorities, Murchison further explains, which may make them more likely to become victims of abuse.
The restrictions put a big target on their backs. Some will avoid using restrooms altogether because of it, according to Reuters. This means teens may not drink enough fluids and ignore the need to use the restroom, posing significant health problems such as urinary tract infections and impacted bowels.
Arkansas is one of seven states that have banned transgender students from using school bathrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identities, and its version of the law is set to take effect this summer. Doctors report reproductive anatomy at birth does not always align with rigid definitions of sex and binary ideas of sexual and gender identity. The narrow-minded scope this law is under ignores biological nuances such as this, according to ABC.
There were some exceptions made to the bill that would allow parents of children 7 or under to accompany their children into the restroom. Still, the bill would pose a difficult choice for transgender activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and her partner, Beck Major, who is also transgender.
The couple from Little Rock has a 2-year-old son and would eventually have to choose between sending their child into public restrooms alone or going with him and risking being charged under the law, according to NBC.
The bill is one of many attempts to restrict the rights of transgender people with antagonistic rhetoric in the Arkansas statehouse. State legislators have introduced at least 155 bills targeting trans people’s rights this year alone, according to KARK.
The way society and our state governments treat LGBTQ youth is why they are more than four times as likely to die by suicide than their peers, according to the Trevor Project, and why murders of trans people have doubled from the years 2017 to 2021, according to Go.
This impending bathroom restriction in Arkansas has absolutely no benefits to any community, especially transgender students and adolescents. The policy comes from a place of misdirected and unwarranted fear toward members of the nonbinary, gender-fluid and trans community.
The people in power who vote on laws such as this are the ones we should be fearing. It is about control even though expressing one’s gender or sexual identity affects and harms no one.
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