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Anti-transgender bill sets US debate on bathrooms
By CRISTINA SILVA
Associated Press
2013-03-21 08:30 AM
One U.S. state lawmaker wants to link public bathroom use to birth certificates in what civil rights advocates call the nation's toughest anti-transgender measure.

The Arizona bill would require people to use public restrooms, dressing rooms or locker rooms associated with the sex listed on their birth certificate or face six months in jail.

The proposal had been scheduled for a committee vote Wednesday, but protesters forced a delay in lawmakers' debate.

With more people identifying as transgender, state and local governments are increasingly banning gender-identity discrimination to ward off legal battles, but both opponents and proponents say the laws don't explicitly demand businesses provide equal access for transgender people. That creates confusion over how businesses must act.

The term transgender covers men and women whose identity does not match with their birth-assigned sex, including cross-dressers and people who don't want to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically.

Among those waiting to speak out against the bill on Wednesday was Erica Keppler. She was born a man, but doesn't feel comfortable in men's bathrooms or locker rooms with her earrings, long hair and feminine clothing.

If the measure becomes law, Keppler said, she will be forced to go to jail or expose herself as a transgender woman each time she uses a public bathroom, dressing room or locker room, which could potentially make her vulnerable to threats from men unsettled by her appearance.

"Most transgender people try to slip through public places without being noticed," Keppler said. "This will turn us into criminals."

Transgender people often have a hard time changing the gender on a birth certificate because many states require proof of gender treatment surgery, which is expensive and often not covered by health insurance. Other states, including Idaho and Ohio, do not allow birth certificate changes for gender, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Discriminating against transgender people is illegal in at least 16 states. The protections vary. Minnesota prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations, while Hawaii's law only applies to housing, according to the ACLU.

More than 100 cities and counties have passed laws prohibiting gender-identity discrimination, including Phoenix, Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas. Those laws are also not uniform.

Some state laws are being tested in court. In one case, a Colorado family filed a complaint with the state's civil rights office after their child, who was born a boy, was prohibited from using the girl's bathroom at her school.

In Arizona, where Republicans control state government, bill sponsor Republican Rep. John Kavanagh said government shouldn't allow people to use facilities based on "you are what you think you are."

"This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women," he said. "For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable just makes no sense."

Masen Davis, executive director for the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, said the proposed ban would target people who look different, regardless if they are transgender or not.

"No one should have to live in a world where they have to show their papers to pee," Davis said.

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