PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers have jumped in to the national debate over the rights of transgender people with a bill being debated Wednesday that would make it illegal for people to use public restrooms not associated with their birth gender.
Advocates say the measure would be the toughest standard in the nation for transgender people and bathroom use, requiring Arizona residents to use the restroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. One local TV station has dubbed it the "Show Me Your Papers Before You Go Potty" bill, a reference to the Arizona Legislature's sweeping 2010 immigration law.
State and local governments are increasingly adding gender identity to anti-discrimination bans to ward off legal battles, but the delicate issue of what kind of restroom can be accessed by men and women presenting as a gender other than what they were born as remains largely unexplored despite a growing number of people identifying as transgender.
Transgender people have successfully sued businesses that didn't provide equal access to public facilities under state and local anti-discrimination bans that include gender identity. 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.
In recent weeks, Massachusetts and California took steps to clarify such laws and ensure equal access for transgender students to gender-segregated facilities. Phoenix passed a human rights ordinance last month prohibiting gender identity discrimination at public accommodations.
"If you look like a man and you live your life like a man, you should be able to use a man's bathroom," said Dru Levasseur, a transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal, a national gay advocacy group.
In Arizona, where Republicans control state government, prominent GOP Rep. John Kavanagh said he was outraged by Phoenix's effort to increase protections for transgender people. His proposed law would make it a misdemeanor for a person to use a public restroom, bathroom, shower, bath, dressing room or locker room associated with a gender other than what's on his or her birth certificate.
Penalties include the possibility of six months in jail. An Arizona House of Representatives committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Wednesday.
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Kavanagh said government shouldn't allow people to use facilities based on "you are what you think you are." He said he was worried Phoenix's anti-discrimination ban would serve as a cover for pedophiles who want to expose themselves to children of the opposite gender.
"This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women," he said. "For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable just makes no sense."
Police officers would be able to make judgment calls about when to press charges when, say, a woman uses a men's bathroom to avoid a long line, Kavanagh said.