One of the foremost difficulties faced by the transgender community in their everyday battles is washroom access. The international spotlight has now fallen on transgender individuals, who have now become prone to investigation and attacks while using public washrooms.
So, why is there a need for legal protection against bathroom restrictions for transgender individuals?
Studies show that transgender individuals are subject and prone to harassment or sexual assault when required to use public washrooms. According to a recent study, people plunge into sexual assault on over 50% of transgender individuals ( a rate much higher than for non-transgendered individuals ) and that washrooms and parks make for the most “beneficial” places for such assault.
As one student of an unnamed University articulates :
“Do I choose physical safety or emotional safety? Do I choose physical health or mental health ?”
Transgender individuals are left with only one option in such cases: “hold it in”. Urinary tract infections, depression and even suicides are some of the very unequivocal disadvantages and health risks. A study of transgender people found that suicide was considered the only resort of over 60% of the participants who had been pushed away from using the bathrooms altogether.
When transgender individuals who are visible as their “chosen gender”, are forced to use washrooms that match their birth gender or biological gender, they are met with malicious and misanthropic reactions. Rohit Gupta, a transgender male, describes in a lurid way, being “bellowed and screamed at, pushed, shoved, knocked and even slapped hard” when he used the woman’s restroom.
As Anuradha Sahai, a transgender woman describes, “if you use the woman’s washroom, you’ll be okay even though you are breaking the law, because you are visible to people as a woman, though you are a man inside. However, if you walk into the men’s room by following the law, you are at a humongous risk of being abused and attacked. I feel, following the law of going into the washroom stating your biological gender and NOT your visible gender is much riskier.” Last year, 22 or 23 transgender women were brutally murdered in India. Their fault? They committed the mistake of following their heart, rather than the mere chance of the meeting of X and Y chromosomes at the time of their conception.
On April 3, a circular was issued by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation of India to notify that transgender individuals will have access to public washrooms of their own choice. The move is a welcome one. However, will the trans people in India be protected by the entry of such circular?
India has done, what even the USA could not – a benevolent and philanthropic step for a minority of Indians. Agreed, that the law has a snowball’s chance in hell, but at least it has been passed. The USA has not reached even that stage. Discriminatory bills in some states of America state the prohibition and disallowance of transgendered individuals from using public restrooms that did not match with the gender on their birth certificate. These ‘bathroom bills’ are bringing women’s fears to the front, about those putting on a false front or ‘pretending’ to be transgender, so that they could sexually assault or harass girls and women in restrooms.
The circular is undubiously a positive step. However, its implementation is still a far cry in India. The entire country’s transgender has gotten their hopes up with this circular. Let us see… how soon this law jumps up from paper into the real world.