The latest issue dividing Americans is about public bathrooms.
At issue is what bathroom -- men’s or women’s – transgender people should use. Transgender people are born with male or female bodies, but feel they were born into the wrong sex, according to the Intersex Society of North America.
The bathroom dispute is even more divisive than other cultural issues, such as same-sex marriage.
People can choose to attend weddings of same-sex couples or to get married to a same-sex partner. But going to a public bathroom is something most people can’t avoid.
North Carolina law sparks debate
North Carolina recently passed a law requiring people to use public bathrooms for the sex listed on their birth certificates. There are calls for similar laws in other states.
Supporters say such laws are needed to protect women and children from sexual attacks.
Peter Sprigg is a senior fellow at the conservative Family Research Council. He said people using public bathrooms or locker rooms have “always been able to count on being separated” from people of the opposite sex.
Opponents of the North Carolina law say it is dangerous to transgender people – making it hard for them to do something as normal and necessary as going to the bathroom.
One of the best-known transgender people is Caitlyn Jenner. She was formerly known as Bruce Jenner, an Olympic gold medal winner.
She wrote that allowing transgender people to use the “right bathroom” is not dangerous. There have been “no increases” in sexual assaults in the states and cities that have laws protecting transgender people from discrimination.
She said the North Carolina law would lead people to demand “that women and girls prove they are actually female” to use a bathroom.
Some people have called for boycotts of North Carolina and Mississippi, which passed a law allowing businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. A boycott is when people deny business to a state, company or other group.
A transgender experience
Payton McGarry, 20, is one of those who oppose the bathroom law in North Carolina. He is suing to remove the law.
McGarry said his birth certificate says he was born a girl. But he felt like a male since he was a young child.
Since he started getting hormone treatments two years ago, his voice has deepened and his face and body became more masculine in appearance, according to his lawsuit.
McGarry said that would make it uncomfortable both for him and for women using a women’s bathroom. In high school, he said he got pushed and hit “every time I went into a female bathroom.”
The North Carolina law says people can use either the bathrooms for the sex listed on birth certificates, or bathrooms for both sexes.
But McGarry said there are very few bathrooms for both males and females at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he is about to enter his junior year.
“Being able to go the bathroom is something that we all need to do,” he told VOA.
Boycott from both sides of the dispute
Musicians Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and Nick Jonas cancelled concerts in North Carolina because they view the bathroom law as discriminatory. And New York State joined the cities of Seattle and San Francisco in banning most government funded trips to North Carolina.
The National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association said they may move sporting events outside North Carolina in protest.
A number of American businesses, including American Airlines, Apple and Dow Chemical have also criticized the law.
One business, Target, has nearly 1,800 stores across the U.S. About 50 stores are in North Carolina. Target said customers and employees could choose the bathroom they feel most comfortable using at the stores.
The American Family Association recently called for a boycott of Target. Tim Wildmon is the president of the association.
He said Target’s policy: “Means a man can simply say he ‘feels like a woman today’ and enter” the women's bathroom – “even if young girls or women are already in there.”
Target responded by saying that it understands some people might disagree with the store’s policy. And that it offers small bathrooms at many stores for use by both men and women.
“As a company that firmly stands behind what it means to offer our team an inclusive place to work — and our guests an inclusive place to shop — we continue to believe that this is the right thing for Target,” the company said.
What will happen with the dispute?
The bathroom issue is also subject of a court case in Virginia. A court-ruled April 18 that a Virginia school board was wrong to stop transgender student Gavin Grimm, 16, from using the boys’ bathroom at his high school.
The court said that policy is discriminatory. The ruling could help those suing over North Carolina’s transgender bathroom rule.
I’m Bruce Alpert.
William Gallo and Katherine Gypson reported on this story for VOANews.com. Bruce Alpert adapted this story and did additional reporting for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
bathroom – n. a room in a public place with a toilet and sink
birth certificate – n. a document that lists your date and place of birth
wedding – n. a marriage ceremony
sue – n. to use a legal process by which you try to get a court of law to force a person, company, or organization that has treated you unfairly or hurt you in some way to give you something or to do something
hormone – n. natural substance that is produced in the body and that influences the way the body grows or develops
masculine – adj. of, relating to, or suited to men or boys
uncomfortable – adj. causing a feeling of physical discomfort
locker room – n. a place where people change clothing and, in many cases, take a shower
inclusive – adj. open to everyone