The Private, the Social and the Political: A Human Rights Perspective on Transgender Bathrooms

Societal attitudes on the rights of LGBTIQ persons are progressing in countries around the world. From marriage equality in the US to the recognition of a third gender in Nepalese passports, we have witnessed many steps towards more liberal and inclusive societies. At the international level, the UN Human Rights Council recently appointed an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI Expert). Vitit Muntarbhorn, an international human rights expert and professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, is going to monitor and promote the realization of human rights of LGBTIQ individuals. 

However, any progress seems to be accompanied by backlash. A group of states in the UN General Assembly contested the legitimacy of the SOGI mandate and sought to postpone it indefinitely. The vote in the GA’s Third Committee on November 21 upheld the mandate, but it took enormous civil society mobilization to achieve this, and the vote was extremely close (84 to 77 with 17 abstentions). This conflict reveals the extent of the controversy and divide among states — the battles on LGBTIQ rights are far from won. 

Among the many experiences of discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals, one relates to an everyday need as basic as sanitation. While access to sanitation might seem minor when compared to questions of legal recognition and violence against LGBTIQ individuals, bathroom politics reflect and are often linked to broader questions. 

Toilets remain one of the spheres where gender roles, gender binarism and sex segregation remain widely unchallenged, and users are presented with the option of male or female? Ladies or gents? Urinal or stall? But not everyone has this choice. 

In March 2016, the State of North Carolina adopted a law known as “House Bill 2“, which has generated a heated debate on transgender rights in the US and led to boycotts of the state by businesses, sports organizations and…

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