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Rep wants ‘bathroom privacy’ bill; Critics fear discrimination

Rep. Roy Edwards (R, HD-53, Gillette) said he intends to bring a bill to the Legislature that would allow people to only use public bathrooms according to the gender listed on their birth certificates.

The bill, which Edwards told WyoFile would be similar to North Carolina’s highly controversial House Bill 2, is being drafted but its contents remain secret under state law governing draft legislation. Like North Carolina’s law, Edwards’ bill would affect transgender people, barring them from using the bathroom of the sex they identify with.

Edwards announced the bill at a legislative breakfast held by the Gillette Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 5. His goal, he told the audience, was to keep people from “getting their thrills off and being allowed to go into the opposite sex’s bathroom,” according to a video on Gillette Public Access.

Representative Roy Edwards (R, Gillette)

Representative Roy Edwards (R, Gillette)

In a phone interview, Edwards said his bill also will include locker rooms and showers, and apply to all restrooms in public facilities, including schools.

Representatives of Wyoming Equality, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, said the legislation is rooted in unfounded fears. They attacked the bill as discriminatory and economically detrimental to the state. Jesse Weber said he was not surprised to hear about the measure. While cloaked in concerns about individual privacy, he said, such bills are little less than discrimination aimed at transgender people.

Sarah Burlingame, the education and outreach coordinator with Wyoming Equality, said legislators who wish to enact exclusionary laws around the country are seizing on the momentum of the Trump election and its divisive rhetoric.

Most transgender people are already uncomfortable using public restrooms, even in states considered “transgender friendly,” Weber said, citing a survey from the Transgender Center for Equality where 59 percent of respondents reported they had avoided a public restroom, fearing confrontation. Barring people from the restrooms they feel most comfortable using can have a deleterious health effect, he said. As transgender people try to avoid using the bathroom during long work days, they can develop kidney problems or urinary tract infections. Often, Weber said, transgender people are equally uncomfortable visiting physicians to have these health problems treated.

“It’s just a horrible cycle,” he said.

Youth more vulnerable

Since the bill relates to school restrooms, transgender youth would be affected at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives, Weber and Burlingame said. Burlingame said that transgender youth develop urinary tract infections at five times the rate of their peers.

The bill is particularly disheartening, she said, given the progress made in schools. She recalled recently talking to students at Cheyenne high schools who stand outside while their transgender friends use the bathroom they identify with, to show solidarity and give their friends privacy. “It’s their parents who are creating the fear and paranoia,” she said.

Asked whether he was aware of the discriminatory effect on transgender children and adults, Edwards was unconcerned.

“To me that really doesn’t make any difference,” Edwards said. “They’re born with a set of tools that were given to them by God, and they shouldn’t try to force themselves on those that were in the restroom that they choose to go into.”

His concern, Edwards said, is “perverts” or “peeping toms” taking advantage of civil rights protections to enter the bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex. Critics of North Carolina’s HB 2 say there has never been a documented case of an assault by transgender people in a bathroom, and that equating transgender people with sexual predators is discriminatory.

Weber said it’s more likely a transgender person will be the victim themself. Citing the Transgender Center for Equality survey, he said 12 percent of respondents had reported being physically attacked in a bathroom.

Though Wyoming already faces a difficult general session that will have to deal with a looming deficit in education funding and declining state revenue, Edwards said his bathroom privacy bill remains important.

“I think we need to balance our budget, and I believe that’s the biggest issue we have facing us, but I think we also have an obligation as a Legislature to protect our children from perverts,” Edwards said.

The Legislature has a big economic problem on its hands, Burlingame said, and this bill could only make worse. “Now is really not the time for our legislators to be dabbling and poking the hornets’ nest of culture wars,” she said.

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For North Carolina, the backlash has been widespread. Paypal and Deutsche Bank, both large international corporations, cancelled planned expansions in the state, causing a combined loss of 650 jobs. Sponsors have cancelled rock concerts, conventions, a film project and sporting events, including the NBA 2016-2017 All Star game, since the bill’s passage. Several states and local governments banned taxpayer-funded trips to the North Carolina.

Wyoming’s second biggest industry is tourism, Weber said, referencing Yellowstone National Park. “We have this huge place that people flock to by the millions, and we’re going to put this bill out there?” he said.

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About the Author

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Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at [email protected], follow him @AndrewGraham88

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9 Responses to Rep wants ‘bathroom privacy’ bill; Critics fear discrimination

  1. Paul Rock January 12, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    What is with these conservative yahoos and their neurotic fascination with bodily functions, especially pee-pee and poo-poo? Isn’t it time for Rep. Roy Edwards to get his head out of the toilet?

    Pinedale, Wyoming

  2. Bobbi Wade January 11, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

    Where do these people come from? Does he want us to all have to scan our birth certificate to enter a public rest room? Bathroom police? Wyoming is supposed to be a “live and let live” state, this bill is ridiculous, stupid, and ignorant, and, condescending, if a parent can’t figure out how to protect their child in a public restroom from a real threat, then the parent is the problem, not the other people in the stalls . . .

    Big Piney, Wyoming

  3. Frank Prevedel January 10, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    With the state’s finances in the tank, a legislator worries about a non-existant problem? Legislator quality is obviously also in the tank.

    Rock Springs, Wyoming

  4. Duane Schweigert January 10, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    Just what the Wyoming legislature needs, another extreme conservative bigot, who will take the “bathroom privacy” issue into the legislative process at a time when our focus should be on the financial crisis facing our state and its citizens. Is this bill really in our best interests?

    Kinnear, Wyoming

  5. Lon Lewis January 10, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    How STUPID can you get? Rep. Edwards is testing the extreme. Hopefully there are enough others in the legelature much smarther.
    Lon Lewis

    Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
    formerly Lusk, Wyoming

    Lusk formerly now Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, Wyoming

  6. Jay Andrews January 10, 2017 at 7:26 am #

    As a female to male transgender person, I know laws like these wouldn’t work. If I was forced to use the women’s restroom because of my birth certificate even though I sound and look totally male, people would be freaking out.
    How would you know if I were born male or transitioned? To anyone else it would just appear as a man in he women’s room. Another stupid idea!
    I try to avoid Wyoming anyway because they can be so rude to “outsiders”. It’s 2017 now people! Start getting used to things.

    Denver, Colorado

  7. Dewey Vanderhoff January 8, 2017 at 5:18 pm #

    I am a 65 years old born and raised 3rd-4th gen Wyoming native son . I’ve always lived here.
    Thinking back from the Truman administration to Trump, I cannot conjure up a single instance of where this legislation would have ever been needed in Wyoming.

    Rep. Edwards believes we have to protect our children from his imaginary sexual perverts. I say instead our children need to be protected from the very real legislators of his ilk… the subverts.

    Cody, Wyoming

  8. Jackie Campbell January 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    I travel to Cheyenne several times a year and I’ll be damned if I’ll use the men’s room. If it subjects me to arrest I guess we get a very long drawn out court case. If it subjects me to a fine it won’t be paid. There’s a lot of reasons I left that state, being trans isn’t even the top one.

    LOVELAND, Colorado

  9. Bern Haggerty January 8, 2017 at 10:39 am #

    Thanks for reporting on this Andrew. It is outrageous news but well reported.

    LARAMIE, Wyoming

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