The highly charged debate over transgender rights has resulted in a tangle of contradictory laws governing access to public bathrooms and locker rooms across the country. Many states permit transgender people to choose bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, considering it a civil rights issue. But in a handful of states and cities, legislators are moving in the opposite direction. Here are some milestones in the national debate.
2012 | Cities including Austin, Tex.; Berkeley, Calif.; Philadelphia; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Seattle were among the first to pass laws requiring single-user all-gender restrooms, following a pattern emerging at schools and universities. Soon museums, restaurants and even the White House (in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) began rebranding restrooms, resulting in a dizzying range of creative signage and vocabulary.
The Justice Department revises policy
December 2014 | In a memo by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department took the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to claims of discrimination based on gender identity. The memo was one of a combination of policies, lawsuits and public statements that the Obama administration used to change the civil rights landscape for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
May 2016 | The Justice and Education Departments issued guidance that, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s transgender status — and that the departments would treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX.
Jan. 20, 2015 | President Barack Obama mentioned transgender people in his State of the Union address, a presidential first. “That’s why we defend free speech and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Mr. Obama said.
Houston voters reject an anti-discrimination ordinance
Nov. 3, 2015 | After a yearlong battle, Houston voters easily repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance that banned discrimination based on several “protected characteristics,” including gender identity. Opponents said the measure would allow men claiming to be women to enter women’s bathrooms and inflict harm. The message “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms” on signs and in television and radio ads turned the debate from one about equal rights to one about protecting women and girls from sexual predators. (Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor, Annise D. Parker, in December 2009; she had pushed hard for the ordinance.)
Many schools hesitate at bathrooms
November, 2015 | Public schools began to write policies requiring transgender students to use private changing and showering facilities, drawing complaints of discrimination.
South Dakota considers a ‘bathroom law’
February 2016 | The South Dakota Legislature approved a bill that would require public school students to use bathrooms and other facilities that correspond to their biological sex, defined in the bill as “a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.” Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, vetoed it. The Legislature announced in January that it would consider a similar bill.
North Carolina bans local anti-discrimination policies
March 23, 2016 | Meeting in special session, North Carolina legislators passed a wide-ranging bill known as House Bill 2 barring transgender people from bathrooms and locker rooms that did not match their biological sex. Republicans unanimously supported the bill, while in the Senate, Democrats walked out in protest. “This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights and local autonomy,” the Senate Democratic leader, Dan Blue, said in a statement.
The federal government issues guidelines
May 12, 2016 | The Obama administration took up a legal fight with North Carolina over the issue, quickly issuing guidance — signed by Justice and Education Department officials — that was sent to all school districts, outlining what schools should do to ensure that no student was discriminated against. The letter did not have the force of law, but it contained an implicit threat: Schools that did not abide by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal dollars. The measure attracted criticism and support from across the country.
A split emerges between Southern cities and states
Cities in the Deep South were increasingly at odds with their states on gay rights and other benchmarks, moving toward common ground with big cities on the coasts. And North Carolina, the rare Southern state that is evenly split between liberals and conservatives, was considered to be up for grabs in the November presidential race. But backlash against the law roiled the governor’s race and affected other crucial contests.
A ruling in Virginia
April 19, 2016 | A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student who was born female and wanted to use the boys’ restroom at his rural Virginia high school.
Criticism from Candidate Trump
April 22, 2016 | As the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald J. Trump said that transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel most comfortable with. At a town hall-style event, he said that North Carolina’s legislation had resulted in an exodus of businesses and “strife” from people on both sides of the issue. “You leave it the way it is,” he said. “There have been very few complaints the way it is.”
Judge bars enforcement of guidelines
Aug. 21, 2016 | A federal judge in North Texas blocked the Obama administration from enforcing guidelines intended to expand restroom access for transgender students across the country. In his ruling, which he said should apply nationwide, Judge Reed O’Connor said the government had not complied with federal law when it issued “directives which contradict the existing legislative and regulatory text.” The Trump administration has decided not to challenge the injunction in court.
California requires gender-neutral bathrooms
September 2016 | Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill requiring all single-toilet bathrooms to be gender neutral, effective March 1, the first such state legislation in the country.
Texas considering legislation
Jan. 5, 2017 | A bill revealed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in government buildings and public schools and universities based on their “biological sex,” overruling any contrary local rules, and raising the prospect of a new confrontation with college sports officials and professional sports leagues.
Trump reverses Obama rules
Feb. 22, 2017 | President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, overruling his own education secretary. In a joint letter, the top civil rights officials from the Justice and Education Departments rejected the Obama administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.
With Mr. Trump’s decision, the focus shifts to the Supreme Court, where Mr. Grimm’s 2016 lawsuit is scheduled for oral arguments at the end of March.