Have you ever seen a movie where the nerdy kid goes into the bathroom and soon finds him or herself surrounded by bullies? Movies notoriously have bathroom fight scenes and assaults. Think back to when you were a kid. Did this happen to you or did you witness it happen to another? Maybe you heard about it. Even in the movie Zombieland, the main character says to beware of bathrooms! There’s a certain level of vulnerability we associate with restrooms.
James Bond engaged in a bathroom fight scene.
Just another day throwing a female terminator into a toilet for Arnold in Terminator 3.
Before we get too deep, Click Here to see an amazing mash up of movie bathroom scenes.
At the age of 10, I found myself a minority when attending a new school. Being different, a girl cornered me in the bathroom and was determined to make sure I knew she thought I was ugly. Shocked, nothing came out of my mouth. This type of treatment was new to me, and thankfully the girl got it out of her system and left me alone. One wrong move and this could have escalated into something worse. Recalling this experience from over 30 years ago left a powerful impression on me then and now. Bullying in the privacy of a bathroom from people who perceive you as “different” can be a dangerous situation.
There’s been a lot of bathroom talk in the media about sharing bathrooms with transgender people. Everyone from restaurant establishments to work and schools are joining in the debate and coming up with their own solutions. There’s a sense of panic among parents who fear permitting transgenders into the bathroom will leave an open door for predators. Predators tend to break the rules no matter what, so setting up a rule against transgender people won’t change the motivations of predators. Where there is a will, there is a way. That lonely and barely used public bathroom in the back of a store or around the corner at a gas station on a dark night is still spooky and dangerous regardless if trans people are allowed or not. And a trans person would be just as skeptical of isolated bathrooms. A commonly used public bathroom with lots of traffic is not a place a predator might be; such as, a busy movie theater or a mall.
Unfortunately, for many transgenders there are people who will not share a bathroom with them based on prejudice and fear. At my previous employer about 10 years ago, we had a transgender who completed his transition to male through sexual reassignment surgery. The transition was not a secret in the office, and soon after a male co-worker refused to use the bathroom with him and claimed it was against his religion. I was not in HR at the time, but this must have been an interesting issue for management. I wish I had been a fly on the wall! Within a year, the trans male was asked to resign. A woman accused him of rubbing up against her in a sexual advance as he passed by her in a tightly spaced meeting room. Never mind that the trans male’s wife also worked there and he was not intentionally making a pass at anyone, let alone the person who accused him. If you can’t have a school fight in the bathroom at work, there are other ways for bullies to hurt you.
How would someone really know they were sharing the restroom with a trans person? Most of them look even better than the sex they are identifying as. They aren’t drag queens parading in outrageous outfits. Danielle, my cousin, began as a male and knew from an early age something was massively wrong. She identified as female and began to have severe depression. After many doctors and evaluations, Dani’s parents put her on estrogen to block the onset of puberty. They knew if this worked, her depression would cease and she would be fine. If her mood didn’t change, then they could always take her off the hormones and let puberty take over. The decision had a relatively low risk, and at 14 she began hormones. At 23 years old, Dani had the full operation from a world renowned expert in Thailand, and she is absolutely stunning. The majority of our family, including her own father, is highly supportive, though some are a tad envious of her beauty. Dani is by far the most beautiful woman in our family with looks that compare to the likes of Audrey Hepburn. It’s no wonder she landed a modeling contract with IMG and has appeared in magazines like Russian Vogue all prior to her operation. To glimpse some of Dani’s pictures, click here.
Which makes me wonder, if Dani was forced to use the men’s bathroom up until her surgery, wouldn’t this paint a target on her back? As a man, would you freak out if Dani used the urinal next to you? Sending transgenders to the restroom of their choice isn’t about putting your kids at risk, it is about keeping the trans people from risky situations where assault may take place. Imagine all those movies where the kid gets beaten up in the bathroom or even sexually assaulted by their own gender, this is a real fear. According to an article on CNN, in one of the largest surveys of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans ever conducted, 70% of respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.
Some establishments with two single bathrooms are labeling both as gender neutral. I’ve seen signs pop up with an icon of a half man half woman, denoting either sex. Some schools are designating a bathroom as gender neutral for anyone to use, or permit trans students to use the faculty bathroom. But this leads me to the question, how do employers handle these situations, and how should my previous employer have handled it?
Dani’s employer is forward thinking and happens to be a large big box retailer. When Dani began identifying by her new female name, they offered to transfer her to another store location and allowed her to use a designated bathroom that was neutral. So, when she returned from her gender reassignment surgery, she could begin using the ladies room like everyone else if she felt comfortable enough to do so. The great thing is, the employer kept her out of harm’s way from possible discrimination and assault. The employer was empathetic to her situation and made every accommodation they could. Employers are obligated to do this, but I personally value working for an employer who cares about their transgender employee’s safety and well-being.
Here’s an example of a male transgender in the picture below whose state is attempting to pass laws requiring him to use the bathroom for the gender he was assigned at birth. I know if I saw him in the ladies room, I’d consider him a male immediately. For more about Michael Hughes, click here.
Below is a trans woman who clearly doesn’t belong in the men’s bathroom, but state legislature may force her to put herself at in harm’s way by using the men’s room. I hope she carries pepper spray or other means for protection. For those thinking she should relocate to a more liberal state, think again. You are asking trans people to leave their family, friends, career, and home to relocate for your convenience.
My old employer should have requested the man with the complaint to a specific bathroom, then asked the trans male to use any of the remaining bathrooms or vice versa. If anyone else has a complaint, they now have a choice.
As an HR professional, I would make every effort to accommodate the trans person and keep them from potential harassment in the workplace. Luckily, my building has bathrooms on each floor and a handicap accessible, gender neutral bathroom on the ground floor. We have options. But not all employers have multiple bathrooms. In this situation, if the trans person was known, I would talk with any employees with issues and try to sooth their concerns. If their issue persists, they have the choice to look for another employer. As a progressive thinking HR professional, I’m not about to sacrifice the safety of one for the comfort of another. Safety comes first.