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#Wejustneedtopee: why lawmakers shouldn't choose which restrooms transgender people use

A restroom sign.
A restroom sign.
Freer via Shutterstock
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

In Florida and Texas, there are proposed bills that would make it illegal for transgender people to use the restrooms that match their gender identity. In Kentucky, a similar bill would apply to school facilities even with a trans student's parental consent. And lawmakers are drumming up support for these pieces of legislation by insinuating that these discriminatory laws would increase sexual harassment and put women at risk.

What they're ignoring is that these laws have real repercussions on transgender people and may put them in uncomfortable, and perhaps even unsafe, situations.

And as one transgender man wants to make clear, the people making these bills have no grasp on what they're truly asking for.

What is #wejustneedtopee?

A trans man named Michael Hughes created the #Wejustneedtopee hashtag. Hughes wanted to show the unfair and ridiculous reality of what it would be like if transphobic laws, like the ones proposed in Florida and Texas, come to pass.

"I used men’s restrooms several years before transition. I had a hard time using women’s rooms most of my adult life," Hughes told Buzzfeed News. "I would be able to use men’s facilities without question but that’s a privilege not every trans person has, especially early in transition."

Why it works

The hashtag is just one part of the equation. It breaks down Hughes' message into something that's relatable and something that's relatively simple to understand. But what makes Hughes' message even more effective is the visual aspect.

When it comes to gay and lesbian rights, knowing someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender or having an LGBT family member can positively impact a person's views on the issue. A 2007 Pew research poll found that "people who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage and they are also significantly less likely to favor allowing schools to fire gay teachers than are those with little or no personal contact with gays."

Hughes' picture works the same way, and actually shows you who the laws will affect. But it does something else, too. It shows the reality of these laws: trans men and women aren't men and women whose gender is fleeting and superficial.

There's an ugly transphobic myth behind these laws

The ugly, often insensitive debate over trans people using restrooms that correspond to their gender didn't pop up over night. It has been brewing for a couple of years, which actually coincides with the growing acceptance of marriage equality.

The National Organization of Marriage (NOM), one of the biggest and most visible opponents of marriage equality (see: that crazy video about a storm and gay marriage), began shifting its sights to the transgender rights debate in 2013, when it opposed legislation that would protect transgender kids in California.

That law is known as the School Success and Opportunity Act, and it requires that schools allow its students to participate in sex-segregated school programs (think athletics teams) and use facilities based on each student's gender identity, regardless of what gender is officially listed in records. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the act into law in August of 2013.

In the wake of that law passing, NOM and right-wing pundits began flinging a variety of reasons why the law was harmful. As ThinkProgress points out, NOM claimed the law violated privacy acts and alleged it would create coed showers.

But it was Bill O'Reilly who delivered the most harmful characterization: that transgender people would use the law to sexually assault and harass people in restrooms. During his show on November 12, 2013, he told commentator Alan Colmes that allowing a transgender woman to use a women's locker room was like taking a randy patron to Hooters:

O'Reilly: In — the transsexual in the locker room, in the bathroom, and all of that, you're fine with that. But you won't take the kid to Hooters

O'Reilly: The way to deal with it is basically, look, if you're born a boy you stay in the boys locker room even though — and then when you're an adult you can go where you want. But this is what gets me about you — you, Colmes. You. You. You say no to Hooters, but yes to the transgender


Colmes: One is taking a 12-year-old to see 'T and A,' and the other is someone who happens to be of indeterminate gender because that's the way they're built. It's a different thing.

O'Reilly: Listen. If the guy goes into the girls' locker room, there's going to be what you just described! But you're ok with it!

Colmes: So a girls' locker room is like Hooters to you?

O'Reilly: Have you ever been in a locker room, Colmes?

Colmes: I actually have. Yes.

O'Reilly: They don't have chicken wings but — it's called a locker room for a reason. Do you see what I'm saying?

There hasn't been any evidence that bolsters Bill O'Reilly's claim. The left-leaning site Media Matters has a good roundup of the 17 states and over 200 cities that have implemented nondiscrimination laws in public accommodations but have seen no evidence of a rise in rape or sexual assault.

Lawmakers want to make gender identity seem invalid

The heart of O'Reilly's claim is that gender identity isn't real and that people will take advantage of it for sexual kicks and sexually threaten the people with whom they share their restrooms. In order to drum up support for their respective restroom bills, lawmakers have built on this idea.

"A man such as myself can walk into the bathroom at LA Fitness while women are taking showers, changing, and simply walk in there," Rep. Frank Artiles, a Republican who is supporting Florida's bill, told the Miami Herald. "If I feel like a woman that day, I can be allowed to be in that locker room."

Texas lawmaker Debbie Riddle, as Mother Jones points out, echoed Artiles' sentiments in a Facebook post. Riddle said her bill would protect women from "finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day."

Artiles and Riddle aren't just ignoring the evidence or denigrating the gender identity of transgender people — they're also painting a pretty bleak picture of humanity, in which men would do just about anything to sexually assault women in restrooms.

The strange irony to all of this is that the fear lawmakers like Riddle and Artiles are mongering and chewing on is exactly what would happen if the laws passed: transgender men like Hughes would be forced to use women's restrooms.

"Do I look like I belong in women's facilities?" Hughes writes in one of the pictures accompanying his hashtag. He's acknowledging that using a women's restroom would be uncomfortable for him and for the women in that restroom.

"Trans people aren't going into the bathroom to spy on you, or otherwise cause you harm, #wejustneedtopee." he writes.

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