Fear & loathing in Florida Restrooms: Firsthand Experience Traveling to the Sunshine State

kate bornsteinDeja Nicole Greenlaw

banner ad

deja nicole greenlaw

Deja Nicole Greenlaw

By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—

I recently took a drive down to Florida to meet up with friends and to get relief from the seemingly never-ending New England winter. On the way down, I stopped at various public restrooms as needed. When I reached the Florida Welcome Center off I-95, I decided to use the restroom there.

There is currently a bill in the Florida Legislature which, if passed in its current form, would allow for transgender people to be charged with a crime for using the “wrong bathroom.” What the bill means by “wrong bathroom” is that it would require a person to use the restroom for whatever gender you were assigned at birth. You must not use the other gender’s restroom. For instance, I was assigned male at birth, so for me to use the women’s room would mean that I would be using the “wrong bathroom.” For a transgender man, his “wrong bathroom” for him to use would be the men’s room.

The bills states that if I used the “wrong bathroom,” then I could be charged with a crime and be arrested and sentenced up to a year in jail. On top of this, the person who “turns me in” would get a finder’s fee of $2,000. That means there would be a $2,000 bounty on me. It is so ridiculous that I cannot believe someone actually thought this up and presented it as a bill.

With the knowledge of this bill in the back of my mind, I knew that I would have to use a Florida public restroom many times during my stay in Florida. This was the first public restroom that I came across and I needed to go, so off I went to the women’s room. I had just sat down on the toilet seat when I heard the outside door open and a male voice saying something inaudible but it ended with “in the bathroom.” I wasn’t sure why he opened the door and what he said, so I decided to keep silent.

My first thought was that this person identified me as a transgender woman and wanted me out of the women’s room. Then I heard the door open, and he came in the women’s room and said “Is there anyone in the bathroom?” He was standing right in front of my stall and I responded with a “Hello.” His voice sounded embarrassed as he said “I’m sorry,” and I could hear him walk away. On his way out he said, “I did ask if anyone was in here and you didn’t say anything.” Again, I wasn’t sure what he wanted and why he came into the women’s room, so again I kept silent.

I finished up, washed and dried my hands, and exited. As I opened the door the man was there waiting for me about 10 feet away. He asked if I was the last one in the bathroom because he needed to clean it. I nodded and said that I was. He then apologized again for walking in on me in the bathroom and I told him that it was okay. Then he wished me a good day. I thanked him and wished him one too. As I walked away, he then said, “Welcome to Florida” with a slight chuckle in his voice. I think he thought this was my first trip to Florida, and the first time I went to use the restroom a man walked in on me. What a way to start a vacation! [pullquote]This man could have taken issue with me for using the “wrong bathroom.” You never know who you are dealing with and what they think of such issues.[/pullquote]

My story ended up being a funny one, but it could have been a nightmare. This man could have taken issue with me for using the “wrong bathroom.” You never know who you are dealing with and what they think of such issues. It was awful that I had to go through this tense moment while I was using the bathroom. I shouldn’t have had to even think about a possible confrontation, but when you are a transgender person you are constantly aware of these things.

I recently found out that the bill was modified to allow transgender people with proper documentation of their gender change to use the restroom. For example, a female designation on the gender marker on my license would legally allow me to use the women’s room. This bill, however, would put transgender people at risk who have not changed their gender marker on some form of documentation. Does this mean that, if this bill passed, I would need to show my ID every time I used a public restroom? That is utterly ridiculous.

The proposed identification check could lead to various complications. How can you ask for my ID and not ask everyone else for their ID? What would the ID checkers do about identifying a child’s gender? I can envision lawsuits. This bill would be an unworkable law which could cost the state of Florida lots of money.

In case you didn’t know, transgender people have been using bathrooms for years and years and to my knowledge, there have been no problems. My advice to the state of Florida is to just let things be. It would be a lot less trouble for them.*

Deja Nicole Greenlaw is retired from 3M. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.