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Understanding Cultural Norms Through Restroom Laws

Apr 9, 2022

In March of 2016, North Carolina republicans passed the “Bathroom Bill” which stated that in government buildings, individuals may only use restrooms and changing facilities that corresponded to the sex identified on their birth certificates. This controversial law gained massive national coverage with the topic of potty etiquette discussed at dinner tables around the nation. 

Over the next several months people quickly realized that laws like these were not only unenforceable they were downright dehumanizing. To provide some context, let’s not forget that conservatives were still reeling from the legalization of gay marriage less than a year earlier. Though we had won that battle it was evident that this culture war was far from over. 

Our comfort level plays a huge role in what issues we care about at any given moment. Thankfully, we of the LGBTQIA+ persuasion are often uncomfortable as we navigate a world designed by people who are NOT like us. However, this constant discomfort positions us to regularly take the role of trailblazer, disruptor, or in some cases a unifier. Concepts like sex and gender are rarely challenged on the national stage, but republicans opened the door. so just like when I came out of the closet, let’s strap on our heels and charge through headfirst. 

Public facility bills like these are bad. Period. Nobody is going around checking an individual’s genitalia before they use a toilet so in reality, they are based on archaic notions of gender expression. Women wear dresses and men wear pants, right? WRONG! So, let’s talk about gender versus sex. They are two very different things. According to Merriam-Webster, sex refers to males and females based on a species’ reproductive organs. Meanwhile, gender is described as the behavior, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex, it has nothing to do with nature or how we are born, but rather how we identify ourselves and/or how the world sees us. 

These bills are not about sex they are about gender, two different things, and forcing folks to conform to a specific gender expression in which the status quo finds comfortable. We can talk about the intricacies of gender identity or the experiences of transgender people but at the end of the day understand that laws like these are about control. 

If you want to do your part to challenge societal norms around this issue, use your pronouns when doing introductions. This is a really easy way of educating others while at the same time reflecting on your own gender expression. It’s fun, I promise. Conversations about cultural norms are important and we should continue to have them, but let’s also remember to celebrate our diversity, to value each other’s perspectives, and to stand up to those who seek to control us. Just because things have “always” been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that way is correct or morally right. 

David A. Grant is the Executive Director of the Lavender Policy Center, a Connecticut based think tank specializing in LGBTQIA+ research and policies. He can be reached by e-mailing