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Transgender Bathroom Debate Continues

A House panel voted this week to void part of anti-discrimination laws in several communities around the state. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.

The fight follows the Phoenix city council extending protections to those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. Foes dubbed it the "bathroom bill," saying it would let those who are anatomically male but self-identify as female demand access to facilities reserved for women. And businesses who violate the ordinance would be subject to both civil and criminal actions.

Representative John Kavanagh called that inappropriate. "What I'm saying is if you choose to designate your bathroom, your public showers and your locker rooms - and the latter 2 are more critical areas because that's where people are naked - if you choose to say 'male only' or 'female only' and you question somebody who doesn't fit that category, Phoenix can't lock you up and say you're a criminal and that person can't sue you by virtue of some special lawsuit ability created by Phoenix law."

He had proposed making it a crime for someone to use a facility that did not match the person's gender. But Kavanagh settled for language to void local laws that require a business to let individuals to use the restroom, locker or dressing room of his or her "gender identity or expression." And the bill would bar lawsuits against businesses that refuse to let someone into a restroom that the owner does not believe is gender appropriate.

The vote came despite a parade of individuals who said how they would be personally affected, like Claire Swinford who was born male. "There is not enough evidence to make a compelling case that there is any risk to allowing transgendered persons to use the restroom that is proper to their gender identity," Swinford said. "There is, however, a great body of evidence that not allowing us to creates a greater risk for us."

That was underlined by Elizabeth Forsyth who said 1 out of every 12 transgendered individuals is murdered. Michael Woodward told of spending the first 36 years of his life trying to live in the female body he was born into. "I'm happier and healthier now than I've ever been," Woodward said, "and a lot of it is due to the fact that I'm no longer forced to use the ladies' room. Believe me, I was way more uncomfortable there than any woman ever was."

But Representative Kavanagh's measure picked up support from Nohl Rosen who owns a Phoenix computer training and repair company. He said, "I think businesses deserve the right to dictate the policies in their establishment. And the Phoenix law took that away from us." And Rosen told lawmakers he doesn't understand the fuss about forcing people to use restrooms that match their birth gender.

But Representative Lela Alston said it's not that simple. "What are you supposed to do?" she asked. "Where do you go to the bathroom? You can't use the men's bathroom. You can't use the women's bathroom. And if you go in the bushes you're for sure going to be getting a criminal charge against you."

Representative Stefanie Mach said the legislation is improper. "Honestly," she said, "I just can't believe that we're empowering individuals to openly discriminate against people and without the victims having any recourse."

But Kavanagh said the legislation is not about civil rights. "This bill is about civility. Our society has mores and customs. There are men's rooms, there are women's rooms. But more importantly, there are men's showers and women's showers and men's changing rooms and women's changing room."

And, he said there is no reason a 10 year old girl should be exposed in a locker room to someone who is anatomically male. The measure now goes to the full House.