By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Single-stall public restrooms in California will be open to anyone regardless of gender under a bill signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday that is being hailed as an advance of transgender rights.
Access to public bathrooms has become a flashpoint in the battle over transgender rights in the United States, where some states including California already let transgender students use locker rooms and restrooms in accordance with their gender identities. Opponents fear that sexual predators will pose as transgender bathroom users in order to find victims.
“Restricting access to single-user restrooms by gender defies common sense and disproportionately burdens the LGBT community, women, and parents or caretakers of dependents of the opposite gender," said Democratic assembly member Phil Ting of San Francisco, who authored the bill.
The most populous U.S. state already bars discrimination against transgender people, including in public restrooms. The latest measure goes further, saying that single-use restrooms should not be reserved for one sex.
In addition to making it clear that people may use single-stall restrooms in accordance with their gender-identities, the measure will also make it easier for everyone to use restrooms at busy locations, supporters said.
“This law is a simple measure that will make everyone’s lives easier,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “Having restrooms open to all genders will mean less hassle for everyone going about their day, and will allow people who don’t fit neatly into expectations of what it looks like to be male or female to use the restroom without fear of harassment.”
Allowing transgender people to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identities is the focus of ongoing disputes in several states. North Carolina earlier this year enacted a measure mandating that multiple-use bathrooms and locker rooms be restricted according to a person's biological gender.
That law has prompted protests and boycotts, and in August, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the state must allow two transgender students and a transgender employee to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide within weeks whether to hear a major transgender rights case for the first time, a dispute involving which bathroom a Virginia high school student can use.
State law already requires California schools to allow students to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identities. The new law does not affect multi-stall bathrooms.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)