Bathroom Bills, Bigotry, and Bioethics

In an eleven-hour emergency session on March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the first statewide “bathroom bill” in the nation. The law, known as HB 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, requires that a person’s biological sex corresponds with the gendered public restroom they are permitted to use. This effectively prohibits transgender and gender nonconforming people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity. The  anti-transgender provisions of the law have been widely reported, and the New York Times editorial board condemns HB 2 as “appalling, unconstitutional” legislation.

The “emergency” that prompted the session was the February 22 passage of a transgender-inclusive antidiscrimination bill in the city of Charlotte. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory wrote on Twitter that he “signed bipartisan legislation to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, [and] ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms.”  But the law invades the privacy it purports to protect. Rooted in the specter of men masquerading as women to enter and commit violent crime in women’s bathrooms, it instantiates surveillance over the genitalia of anyone using public restrooms who is not stereotypically masculine or feminine. Furthermore, the measure (which is part of broader legislation dealing with the relationship of local and state laws) bars local policy-makers from enacting municipal antidiscrimination laws that conflict with these new state-level restrictions.

HB 2 should incite the worry, and the anger, of bioethicists on several fronts. It is unclear how transgender people could even comply with the letter of the law, let alone its spirit.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.