In a phone interview, Edwards said his bill also will include locker rooms and showers, and apply to all restrooms in public facilities, including schools.
Representatives of Wyoming Equality, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, said the legislation is rooted in unfounded fears. They attacked the bill as discriminatory and economically detrimental to the state. Jesse Weber said he was not surprised to hear about the measure. While cloaked in concerns about individual privacy, he said, such bills are little less than discrimination aimed at transgender people.
Sarah Burlingame, the education and outreach coordinator with Wyoming Equality, said legislators who wish to enact exclusionary laws around the country are seizing on the momentum of the Trump election and its divisive rhetoric.
Most transgender people are already uncomfortable using public restrooms, even in states considered “transgender friendly,” Weber said, citing a survey from the Transgender Center for Equality where 59 percent of respondents reported they had avoided a public restroom, fearing confrontation. Barring people from the restrooms they feel most comfortable using can have a deleterious health effect, he said. As transgender people try to avoid using the bathroom during long work days, they can develop kidney problems or urinary tract infections. Often, Weber said, transgender people are equally uncomfortable visiting physicians to have these health problems treated.
“It’s just a horrible cycle,” he said.
Youth more vulnerable
Since the bill relates to school restrooms, transgender youth would be affected at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives, Weber and Burlingame said. Burlingame said that transgender youth develop urinary tract infections at five times the rate of their peers.
The bill is particularly disheartening, she said, given the progress made in schools. She recalled recently talking to students at Cheyenne high schools who stand outside while their transgender friends use the bathroom they identify with, to show solidarity and give their friends privacy. “It’s their parents who are creating the fear and paranoia,” she said.
Asked whether he was aware of the discriminatory effect on transgender children and adults, Edwards was unconcerned.
“To me that really doesn’t make any difference,” Edwards said. “They’re born with a set of tools that were given to them by God, and they shouldn’t try to force themselves on those that were in the restroom that they choose to go into.”
His concern, Edwards said, is “perverts” or “peeping toms” taking advantage of civil rights protections to enter the bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex. Critics of North Carolina’s HB 2 say there has never been a documented case of an assault by transgender people in a bathroom, and that equating transgender people with sexual predators is discriminatory.
Weber said it’s more likely a transgender person will be the victim themself. Citing the Transgender Center for Equality survey, he said 12 percent of respondents had reported being physically attacked in a bathroom.
Though Wyoming already faces a difficult general session that will have to deal with a looming deficit in education funding and declining state revenue, Edwards said his bathroom privacy bill remains important.
“I think we need to balance our budget, and I believe that’s the biggest issue we have facing us, but I think we also have an obligation as a Legislature to protect our children from perverts,” Edwards said.
The Legislature has a big economic problem on its hands, Burlingame said, and this bill could only make worse. “Now is really not the time for our legislators to be dabbling and poking the hornets’ nest of culture wars,” she said.
For North Carolina, the backlash has been widespread. Paypal and Deutsche Bank, both large international corporations, cancelled planned expansions in the state, causing a combined loss of 650 jobs. Sponsors have cancelled rock concerts, conventions, a film project and sporting events, including the NBA 2016-2017 All Star game, since the bill’s passage. Several states and local governments banned taxpayer-funded trips to the North Carolina.
Wyoming’s second biggest industry is tourism, Weber said, referencing Yellowstone National Park. “We have this huge place that people flock to by the millions, and we’re going to put this bill out there?” he said.