Over 15 years ago, there was guy who cross-dressed at my job. On occasion, he would use whichever bathroom he wanted, depending on the day, his mood, and his outfit. There were complaints. We (the HR team) talked about how to handle it and so we executed this plan which involved having meetings with 5-10 employees at a time. We told them we needed to update our records and they had to fill out these forms to self-identify. And so with that information, I told him, he had to use the men’s restroom.
Now, just a few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about how to deal with transgender employees. And by “deal”, I meant specifically, how do you educate your staff and change the culture surrounded by those who have or seek to change their sexual orientation. To be honest, it was a very raw and politically incorrect conversation – you have 2 middle aged black men, from the South, discussing changing your sexual identity. The entire concept seemed foreign but then, just then, we actually heard ourselves. We had to stop and laugh because we must have sounded like all the racist assholes who said things like, “Oh God, now they are letting the Blacks sit with us?”, “This country is going to hell by letting Blacks in the same restroom with us?”, “What I am going to tell my son or daughter about those people?” or “I can’t let my child in the bathroom with them alone.”
Sound familiar? Of course it does – those bathroom House Bills seem so innocent on paper because they tell people where to pee – but it is really about peeing? No. Of course not. There are peoples’ lives at stake here. There are personal, private secrets trapped underneath these bills. It’s just another way of trying to control or slow a movement that some people with power and influence just aren’t ready to tackle. It’s about adding another law which based on the thousands of other laws seem to work so well.
In that conversation with my buddy, he said something really interesting, “Hell, there are unisex bathrooms in most airports and restaurants anyway.” And then it hit me, he was right, unisex bathrooms are nothing new. So what are we afraid of? Seeing a penis? Seeing a vagina? Discovering someone’s sexual orientation? An assault? Or putting someone in a difficult situation at work and at home before they are ready?
The worse thing about these bathroom bills if passed, is they will “out” a lot of people who have been struggling with this for years and even decades. You see, unlike race (in most cases) where you can tell if someone is multiracial or non-white, with sex you never know who is on the journey of sexual and gender re-identification.
Let me remind you that once again, bathroom time in America has always been a sticking point throughout history – starting with women demanding a separate and different space than men. And then that space expanding to accommodate the needs of women, with sanitary napkins, softer tissue paper, more mirror space and even in some cases, couches and chairs in the restroom (I’ve seen it (don’t ask me why but I have)).
North Carolina passed House Bill 2 which says that you must use the restroom that coincides with your sexual/gender classification at birth. Since they have passed the law the backlash has been immediate and swift, Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert which led to others cancelling shows as well. Paypal stopped creation on a new headquarters with 400 jobs that were coming to North Carolina. Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, has said the 2017 All Star would not be held in North Carolina. The CEO of YELP! joined hundreds of other CEOs by writing letters to the Governor and other city officials.
Millions of dollars for the state, all gone. Consider this, the very thing that you are afraid of the most could happen today right now – sadly people get assaulted in bathrooms, pervs expose themselves to kids, freaks try to peak in on people in the bath now. The good news is, we can now go to the bathroom with our kids instead of relying on the kindness of strangers to help if you happen to be a Dad who’s daughter just has to go.
They say everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about and when it comes to the workplace, there is only one place that comes even remotely close to knowing about those battles and struggles and it’s us…Human Resources.
(You want to be on the right side of history)