Skip to main content Accessibility
The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

Religious Right Fueling Laws that Target Trans People

One sad day, if the religious right gets its way, California residents will be able to make $4,000 or more by becoming bigoted bathroom bullies, targeting transgender Americans.

A recently proposed 2016 California ballot initiative would mandate that people in government buildings use facilities — such as locker rooms and bathrooms in public schools — “in accordance with their biological sex” as determined “at or near the time of birth or through medical examinations.”

The so-called Personal Privacy Protection Act would allow people who feel their privacy is violated by having to share a public restroom with a transgender citizen to sue the government or an individual for damages and attorney’s fees in an amount no less than $4,000.

That amounts to “a bounty” on transgender men, women and children, says Allison Gill, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group fighting for equal rights for LGBT people.

Gill says that after essentially losing the battles over marriage equality and the right for LGBT Americans to fight and die openly for their country, there “are extremists on the right, who are looking for new targets” and transgender Americans “are certainly in their sights.”

Gill says that “we’re seeing increasing legislative attacks on the transgender community” and this year alone there have been about 20 pieces of anti-transgender legislation introduced in 14 states. The majority of the proposed measures — 14 of them, in eight states — would prevent transgender people, Gill says, from using sex-segregated facilities in accordance with their gender identity.

“That could really interfere with people’s lives and put them at risk,” Gill says.

Understanding Issues Facing Transgender Americans, a recent report written by several LGBT advocacy groups, says that 65% of transgender people in a 2014 study conducted in Massachusetts reported experiencing discrimination in a place of public accommodation in the past 12 months. According to the study, transgender people “who reported discrimination in public accommodations often had increased physical and emotional health problems as a result.”

Gill says that many of the anti-transgender bills and “fear mongering tactics, especially around bathrooms” are in response “to local progress.”

The California initiative was modeled on a Kentucky bill that failed earlier this year. That bill — the Kentucky Student Privacy Act (SB 76) — was in response to Louisville’s Atherton High School approving a policy that ensured transgender students access to all facilities and activities in accordance with their gender identity, Gill says.

SB 76 would have allowed students who encountered a person of “the opposite biological sex” in a locker room or bathroom to sue. The student would be entitled to $2,500 from the school “for each instance.”

“When people hear about progress on a local level,” Gill says, “sometimes they have a negative reaction and we can see these bills arise.”

The California initiative comes on the heels of a failed conservative campaign to gather enough signatures to challenge with a referendum the state’s law protecting transgender students. Both efforts have been led by Privacy For All, a coalition of conservative groups, which exists, according to its website, “to protect privacy in restrooms, showers, locker rooms and changing rooms in government buildings.”

The rash of bathroom bills is, as Mother Jones magazine recently put it, “the conservative assault on where transgender Americans pee.”