Bathrooms with toilets and showers are the most trivial concerns in our daily life, but they have gained unprecedented political status in North America in recent years. They have been repeatedly used as weapons by the LGBT community to fight for its civil rights protections, and become a focal point of political contention between governments and political parties. In the last federal election in Canada, it was used as a fear mongering tool by campaign candidates to win voters from some ethnic communities.
In North Carolina, it has passed a state law mandating that people use bathroom that match their biological sex. But the LGBT community believes that their rights are infringed if the government doesn’t pass a law to ensure their rights to access public washrooms corresponding to their “gender identity”, as opposed to their sex at birth. The escalating demands of LGBT have gained widespread supports from the business community and had a huge economic impact on the economy. Several enterprises in the US have threatened to move their business out of the states that have ignored the LGBT’s demands or legislatively force transgender people to use bathrooms aligning with their sex at birth.
Opposing to the state legislation, stakeholders and activists have taken action. Nearly 200 corporate leaders from across the country have urged these states to have the law repealed, arguing it’s bad for business because it makes it more difficult to recruit talented employees. In North Carolina, PayPal and Deutsche Bank have frozen their expansion plans, high-profile conferences are reportedly avoiding the states, and the upcoming events short listing the state’s largest cities have been cancelled by organizations in their protests. It is estimated the controversial law has already cost more than $2.5 million US along in lost spending from cancelled conferences and events.
The escalating fight also has turned these states into political and legal battlegrounds. The US Justice Department has accused the North Carolina state law of violating the civil rights legislation, threatening the government with lawsuits and withdrawal of federal funding.
In Canada, the Bathroom Bill had also prompted fierce political debates. In 2015, the NDP proposed a bill that sought to include the definition of gender identity under prohibited grounds for discrimination, but the bill was later gutted by the Conservative Senate amendment, which exempts places like prisons, crisis centres, and public washrooms from the bill's provisions. The amendment seems to have flushed the bill down the toilet, but the Liberal government has announced a new legislation to protect transgender Canadians against discrimination and violence.
Ironically, the bathroom bill had sparked fears and generated some bizarre and ridiculous side effects in the Chinese community. During last year’s federal election campaign, some candidates used the bill as a fear mongering tool to target unsophisticated voters in the community. Ignorant on the purpose of the bill and the controversy behind it, many of them fell into a trap of dirty campaign tactics, believing that allowing the bill to pass will inevitably lead to an outcome that men and women will share the same toilets and showers in the public washrooms. Overnight, bathrooms became the most concerned issue and a source of fear among the many, and the topic of bathrooms had dominated the conversations at family dinner tables and private discussions.
Months after the election, the bathroom fear has been subsided in the community, but the fight over bathroom bill and the political battles around it has been far from over.
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