Arizona’s “Bathroom Bill”

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Ever since I moved to Arizona a year and a half ago, the politics of my new home state have come to bother me more and more. I knew moving to a notorious red state would come with its difficulties for a diehard liberal like me, but lately the media seems to be reporting a plethora of reasons I either need to join a group that is tackling each of these issues head-on — or get the heck out of here.

The most recent has to do with bathrooms.

Back in March, my news feeds on all of my various social media sites started buzzing with the following headline: “Arizona bill would jail transgender people for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom. The bill in question is SB1045, introduced by Representative John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills; reading about its intricacies filled me with the desire to slam my head against the nearest wall. It was introduced as a direct response to an ordinance adopted in Phoenix in February of this year, “banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents,” the Arizona Republic News reported, applying to “public accommodations such as stores, restaurants and hotels, and could affect public bathroom use in some cases.” Both Tucson and Flagstaff already have similar provisions.

Just over two months ago, The Raw Story reported that Republican legislators in Arizona “are attempting to pass legislation that forces transgender people to only use public restrooms, dressing rooms and showers associated with the gender listed on their birth certificate.” The bill in question would stipulate that anyone who went against this law would be committing a criminal offense — a class 1 misdemeanor to be exact, “punishable by fines as high as $4,000 and up to six months in prison.”

Critics have also pointed out that the broad definition utilized in the bill’s language could make it possible to legally discriminate against a wide variety of people if passed: “An individual’s self-identification as male, female or something in between and includes an individual’s appearance, mannerisms or other characteristics only insofar as they relate to gender with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

Thus, simply wearing non-feminine clothing with a short-cropped haircut could prevent me from using the women’s room at an Arizona eatery, for instance, regardless of my personal identity. A cisgender male with long hair might be seen as not masculine enough to use the men’s room as well.

If such definitions in this bill went through, I would have been fined and potentially jailed for going into the men’s room at a hotel several weeks ago due to the fact that the line for the women’s room was ridiculously long and I had to pee. Regardless of the fact that I am a cisgender female, I find gender-specific bathrooms unnecessary and potentially discriminatory. Unless there is a unisex bathroom along with male- and female-only bathrooms (or dressing rooms, showers, etc.) at any given establishment, I become well-aware of the potential for someone who does not fit the so-called, antiquated “gender binary” to feel uncomfortable and discriminated against. It bothers me and I try to buck that outdated binary myself any chance I get.

The bill as written, however, did not move as Kavanagh had hoped, forcing him to alter the language of SB1045 in order to “void any local law that requires a business to let individuals use the restroom, locker or dressing room of his or her ‘gender identity or expression’,” as the Arizona Daily Star reported. The original public outcry that came with the proposed bill also caused Kavanagh to tweak the language “to instead shield businesses from civil or criminal liability if they ban people from restrooms that don’t match their birth sex,” The Huffington Post reported. This wording was initially approved by the House Appropriations Committee, but that was where it ended.

Fortunately for critics, as of early June, it was been reported that the so-called “Bathroom Bill” is stalled, perhaps indefinitely. Kavanagh said there were potential issues with the definitions used in his proposal, forcing it to be shelved until 2014 at the earliest, allowing activists more time to form a defense as to why SB1045 should be abandoned for good.

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About Author

A.J. Walkley

A.J. Walkley earned a B.A. in literature from Dickinson College in 2007 before heading into the U.S. Peace Corps as a health volunteer in Malawi, Africa. Upon her return to the States, she became a United Nations correspondent and freelance writer working out of New York City. Walkley has three novels to her name: Choice (2009), Queer Greer (2012) and Vuto (2013). She currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is working on a novel based on the life of a Texas inmate she believes to be wrongfully incarcerated.

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