Equal bathroom rights for transgenders and for sexual assault survivors too

I started crying on the bus up to school. I’m a college senior with a 4.0, just a year from graduation. Now I’m not sure I will be able to finish the degree I have been working so hard for. All because of bathrooms.

U.S. secretary of education apparently proclaimed that “No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus” and yet the government is establishing policies that make me feel unwelcome by allowing men into women’s restrooms.

I got off the bus and walked toward school, feeling alternating waves of numbness and anxiety. I knew I would be on campus for around 6 hours, there was no way I could make it that long without using the restroom. But the thought of walking into a restroom and seeing a man in there filled me with panic. I began trying to plan how to get through the day. I could walk over to a building where none of my classes are but where the bathrooms are often pretty crowded. Maybe then, with lots of people around, I would feel less afraid of using the restroom. A sudden realization washed over me, and a deep feeling of empathy as I realized that this stress over bathrooms is probably something many transgender people have been experiencing for a long time.

But I don’t understand why the only way to relieve their stress and discomfort is to place it onto my shoulders. There needs to be another way. Schools need to remodel their bathrooms so that rather than men’s and women’s bathrooms with stalls, there are fully enclosed restrooms with their own toilet, sink, and lock. Or they need security guards at the entrances of bathrooms that women can call out to for help.

Why is this “transgender bathroom issue” such a big deal to me? Because I am a woman who has been sexually assaulted and who has PTSD. The truth is that these new policies put women at risk of sexual assault. Not necessarily from transgender people, but from men pretending to be transgender. There is no way to “prove” you are transgender, so these policies give all men a free pass to enter women’s restrooms. There’s no denying this increased risk. Especially if you enter a more secluded bathroom or need to use one earlier or later in the day when fewer people are around.

I know we need to respect the needs of transgender people for restrooms they feel safe and comfortable in.  But we need to EQUALLY respect the needs of women, children, sexual assault survivors, and everyone else who also deserve a restroom they feel safe and comfortable in. Transgender people’s rights are important, but they are not more important than other people’s rights. Their comfort is important, but it is not more important than the comfort of women, children, survivors, and others.

It may cost more money, but we need to be fair to everyone, not just transgender people. If we don’t, we may lose more money in the long run from people being unable to finish their college degrees and get good jobs that will contribute to society because there are no safe restrooms, and from people being unable to stimulate local economies because they can’t go out shopping for more than a couple hours because they need to get home to a safe bathroom.

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