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How Public Bathrooms Construct and Manifest Cultural Assumptions About Social Identity

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Two sides took hold: one side said that everyone (cisgender and transgender people alike) should have a right to use the restroom that makes sense for them; the other side said everyone should use the restroom that matches the sex they were assigned at birth, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

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For years, transgender rights activists have argued for their right to use the public restroom that aligns with their gender identity. In recent weeks, this campaign has come to a head. The US did not even address the issue of separating public restrooms by sex until the end of the 19th century

In March, North Carolina enacted a law requiring that people be allowed to use only the public restroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates. Meanwhile, the White House has taken an opposing position, directing that trans students be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In response, on May 25, 11 states sued the Obama administration to block the federal government from enforcing the directive. Some argue that one solution is to convert all public restrooms to unisex use, thereby eliminating the need to even consider a patron’s sex. This might strike some as bizarre or drastic. Many assume that separating restrooms based on a person’s biological sex is the “natural” way to determine who should and should not be permitted to use these public spaces.

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The United States is experiencing widespread political debate on transgender† and gender nonconforming (TGNC) youths' use of public facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, in accordance with their gender identity. In May 2016, after several court cases had developed and several states had attempted to create laws restricting transgender student's bathroom use, agencies of the Obama Administration issued a directive instructing public schools across the country to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. (U.S. Department of Justice) Jointly, the U.S

Department of Education (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) clarified that the civil rights of transgender school students are protected under Title IX (of the Education Amendments of 1972), which prohibits sex discrimination. In the weeks that followed, 11 states sued the federal government over the directive. (Richardson B)

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Overall, it works alongside our wider understanding of how we can break down the gender binary to include trans and non-binary identities who experience othering. Because it’s not just bathrooms where gender is violently contested, policed and governed; it’s schools, sports facilities, airport security checkpoints, hospitals, the urban street, public transport and prisons.

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U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students. Examples of policies and emerging practices for supporting transgender students. 2016.

Richardson B. 11 states sue Obama administration over federal transgender school-bathroom directive. The Washington Times, May 25, 2016.

Graham DA. North Carolina overturns LGBT-discrimination bans. The Atlantic, March 24, 2016. A

James SE, Herman JL, Rankin S, et al. . The report of the 2015 U.S. transgender survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality, 2016

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