Katy Steinmetz | TIME | March 29, 2013
What do you call it when a person enters a bathroom but the sign outside doesn’t match the sex listed on his or her birth certificate? Disorderly conduct, according to a bill offered earlier this month by Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh. But the measure sparked outrage in the LGBT community, which saw discrimination against transgender citizens. Kavanagh responded with a revamped, more limited version, which protects businesses that bar such practices from civil or criminal liability. After a contentious seven-hour hearing on Wednesday dominated by opposition to the proposal, a House panel voted along party lines to approve it.
As the Supreme Court considers same-sex marriage, and with gay couples enjoying more rights and protections than ever, pitched debates in state capitals are a reminder that transgender rights remain unclear and controversial. Of the roughly 9 million people in the U.S. who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a 2011 study, roughly 700,000 say they are transgender.
One reason that transgender rights remain murky is because the American public is still coming to understand who they are: a survey released in 2011 showed that 3 in 10 Americans cannot identify what it means to be transgender and dictionary definitions aren’t cut-and-dry. (The Oxford English Dictionary’s rather tortured entry: “a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, but combines or moves between these.”) Confusion or discomfort about where gender lines are drawn make bathrooms a perennial hot-button, because those are the only places most people are self-segregating based on their gender in an average day.