When a transgender woman tried to use the bathroom at a Giant grocery store in Washington, DC, she faced an unexpected obstacle: a security guard.
The guard allegedly told Ebony Belcher, "You guys cannot keep coming in here and using our women's restroom. They did not pass the law yet." According to Belcher, the guard opened the bathroom door, called her derogatory names, and pushed her out of the store, NBC4 Washington reported.
Police said they arrested the guard and charged her with simple assault. And the guard is wrong: DC does have laws that protect trans people from discrimination, including in bathrooms.
It was just the latest example of a woman facing discrimination and harassment as the country debates trans rights and bathrooms. Opponents of letting trans people use the bathroom for their gender identity argue it will let men disguise themselves as women to sneak into women's bathrooms and assault or harass women. LGBTQ advocates point out this has never reportedly happened — several states and schools have policies that let trans people use the bathroom for their gender identity, and they have never had an incident of harassment of assault linked to their policies.
Nonetheless, North Carolina passed an anti-LGBTQ law that bans trans people from using the bathroom for their gender identity in schools and government buildings. Since then, the issue has risen to the national stage.
But as much as the current national debate has ignited the issue, trans people have faced discrimination and harassment in bathrooms for years and years. Belcher's run-in is just one example.
Bathroom harassment is a common experience against trans people
For trans people, bathrooms are a common place of harassment, discrimination, and even violence. This can be easily verified by talking to a few trans people about their experience trying to get their employers to let them use the bathroom for their gender identity, but it's also something that shows up in survey after survey.
A 2013 survey published by the Williams Institute, for example, found that 70 percent of trans and gender nonconforming respondents in the Washington, DC, area faced a negative reaction while trying to use a public bathroom, including 9 percent who reported physical assault. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 26 percent of trans and gender-nonconforming respondents across the country reported denial of access to gender-appropriate bathrooms in educational settings, and 22 percent faced such denial in the workplace.
Sometimes the negative reactions can take extremely ugly turns. In 2011, for example, teenagers brutally attacked Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman, after she used an empty women's bathroom at a McDonald's in Maryland. The teens were sent to prison for the assault after the brutal attack was caught on video.
The harassment also hits cisgender (non-trans) women who are mistaken for men or trans women. In one recent case, a woman in Connecticut said she was told, "You're disgusting!" and "You don't belong here!" while using a bathroom at a Walmart in Connecticut. In a Facebook video, she said she couldn't believe she had just faced transphobia as a cisgender woman.
"After experiencing the discrimination they face firsthand, I cannot fathom the discrimination transgender people must face in a lifetime," Aimee Toms said. "Can you imagine going out every day and having people tell you you should not be who you are or that people will not accept you as who you are?"
Of course, this is only some of the discrimination that trans people unfortunately face. Surveys also show many or most experience harassment, discrimination, and violence at home, work, and school. So it's little surprise that as far as the US has progressed on some LGBTQ issues, it still struggles to let trans people even pee in peace.