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Bathroom bills hurt people with disabilities

In a country notoriously shitty at supporting families, anyone with kids knows the difficulty of finding appropriate public restrooms.

And as many people with disabilities and caretakers can tell you, the right to safe and accessible public restrooms is also important for adults and older children who need accommodation, assistance, or supervision. It’s an issue that becomes especially difficult for people with disabilities who have caretakers of a different gender. Even without repressive state laws, discrimination and harassment against people with disabilities and their caretakers persists.

In North Carolina, however, people with disabilities and their caretakers risk being criminalized just for accessing a public bathroom.

This is thanks to North Carolina’s HB2. While most people are familiar with the way the bill discriminates against trans people, disability community activists have taken to the internet and protest to let lawmakers know that bathroom bills are a violation of many disabled people’s rights, too. 

We can see this as one of many intersectional issues surrounding violence against, and the criminalization of, people with disabilities. Just yesterday, graphic news came from Japan that a man had murdered 19 people at a home for people with disabilities in a hate-motivated attack. And days after the shooting last week of a black behavioral health caretaker, Charles Kinsey, Miami police revealed that the officer who shot Kinsey was actually aiming for the patient he was caring for, Arnoldo Eliud Rios Soto, who has autism — as though this somehow made the sick abuse of police power better. It’s a fear that people of color and people with a number of disabilities, and their loved ones and caretakers, know too well: That innocent behavior will be stigmatized, and even fatal, for members of communities criminalized for who they are.

We can look toward bathroom bills as one of many pieces of legislation that reinforce the stigma people with disabilities — who are often marginalized in multiple ways — already face, criminalizing many people’s normal biological functions. These blatantly discriminatory bills have swept legislatures across the country as part of a wave of over 100 anti-LGBT bills. These laws mandate that trans people, and everybody, use the public restrooms of their “biological sex,” whatever the hell that means.

North Carolina’s law, HB2, has received particular attention. Not only does HB2 mandate that people use their assigned, and not affirmed, gender bathrooms in state-funded institutions like universities, public offices, and museums — it also introduces sweeping restrictions to local anti-discrimination legislation, legitimizes discrimination in many facets of life, and removes the right to sue under state law for all kinds of employment discrimination. The Department of Justice, which has filed a suit against the law, and North Carolina, which has filed a suit for it, are now locked in a bathroom-bill battle

 And while these bathroom restrictions come with some allowances for children, people with disabilities, and caretakers, disability rights advocates across North Carolina say this isn’t enough.

A memo from Disability Rights NC, the state-wide disability protection and advocacy organization, argues that not only does HB2 harm those people with disabilities who are transgender, it narrows disabled people’s and caretakers’ ability to navigate public space.

While, the document notes, the law specifically provides exceptions “to render medical assistance” and to “accompany a person needing assistance,” these exceptions are highly qualified. The report states:

There is no exception that allows a person with a disability to enter a restroom in a public agency that is assigned to the sex of his or her caregiver. Example: A twelve year old boy with a disability who needs assistance to use the restroom and whose caregiver is his mother will need to use the men’s room at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, though his mother may enter to provide him assistance.

Of course, this reveals the cruel absurdity of the bill, an act of hate thinly-veiled as being in the interest of families and children. The whole notion that people  with different genitals sharing bathrooms is somehow dangerous is patently absurd — and the logic behind the bill is contradictory. After all, if lawmakers actually feared for the health of children and families, why would they reduce caretakers’ abilities to make choices that are safe and comfortable for both themselves and those in their care? 

“There is no part of this law that helps our clients. We wish to preserve no part of it. This law solves a problem that didn’t exist,” said Disability Rights North Carolina’s Corye Dunn in an interview with the Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, the Disability Visibility Project, a community project dedicated to collecting and sharing the stories of people with disabilities, co-hosted a Disability and Transgender Solidarity Twitter chat with the National LGBT Taskforce, emphasizing the intersectionality of gender identity and disability and the need for solidarity between the two overlapping communities.

Participants emphasized that even with the exceptions written into the bill, its lack of clarity and reinforcement of social discrimination will only hurt people with disabilities and their caretakers:

Trans people and people with disabilities are already at an increased risk of harassment and criminalization. They are also all vital and loved parts of families both born and chosen. So can we once and for all put to bed the ridiculous myth that this policy, and indeed the entire political machine that spawned it, is somehow “pro-family?”

When we discriminate against people, we do so not to “protect public safety” but to protect the public from having to accept and celebrate difference. We deny some people their rights because of other people’s lack of imagination — imagination of what gender is and can be and of different ways of interacting with the world. By doing so we create a barer and more hostile world. 

So please, lawmakers, do yourselves a favor and respect the right of every person to live — and pee — in dignity.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in Indian cinema, theater, and visual art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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