Solutions: Data for Understanding Needs
A PROACTIVE AND pragmatic vision for addressing bathroom access discrimination should focus on understanding the diverse needs of restroom users and creating a pluralistic approach. While policymakers need to overcome negative narratives and stereotypes that underpin discriminatory efforts, they also need processes to more accurately understand the needs in facilities access. LGBTQ Citizenship research faculty Sonia Katyal critiques “the dearth of empirical and policy research on gender pluralism, including the multiplicity of issues and identities within the transgender community and the impact of our legal system on gender self-determination.”14 Nuanced data collection techniques enable individuals to more accurately represent their identities and begin to address this dearth.
Policymakers must aim to balance self-definition imperatives with the need to remedy discrimination. Queer legal scholars and theorists disagree on the question of data collection from the standpoint that “queer” as a category exists to deconstruct the stable identity categories that presumes, for instance, the gender binary. On the one hand, Russell K. Robinson and David M. Frost argue that the goal “should be to permit people freedom to define their gender and sexual orientation according to their own conscience and not denigrate one’s standing in society because one’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation.”15 LGBTQ politics have, with the success of marriage equality, avoided intersectional interests that render many sexual minority groups—especially gender non-conforming and bisexual groups—largely invisible to public policymaking. The law’s rigid focus on binary gender and sexuality is therefore related to an under-representation of a large portions of sexual minority populations (as well as to the unfixed or changing nature of queer practices and identity) in public discourse and in policymaking.
The Haas Institute maintains that to overcome the extreme discrimination as outlined above, and to recognize the fluid lines of gender identity, policymakers should aim for practical implementation of pluralistic solutions. Data collection can allow policymakers and institutions to better understand and make informed decisions around the diverse needs—related to gender as well as other identity categories—individuals have in accessing and using restroom facilities.16 Inclusion of LGBTQ needs among institutional information-gathering will allow policymakers to more accurately understand the health needs of populations with different needs according to sexual and gender identity. To take the example of a different LGBTQ group, studies indicate that bisexual women, despite outnumbering lesbian women in many counts, remain underrepresented. Research highlights that a lack of understanding of their health needs can, as with transgender populations, lead to negative outcomes. A Canadian-based study found that bisexual women are at a much higher risk than lesbians to face serious health concerns (ranging from poor mental health suicide rates to sexually-transmitted diseases) that go undetected.17 At issue in understanding these dynamics is that many policymakers do not recognize the specific needs and do not allow variance within LGBTQ groups, including those who engage in bisexual activities without identifying as lesbian or gay. To address the unequal health experiences of these groups, agencies and activists should, Juana Maria Rodriguez argues, undertake “community-supported ways of collecting data on gender and sexuality in order to parse out the specific ways that sexual behavior and identity impacts research outcomes beyond the categories of heterosexual and homosexual and male and female.”18
Nuanced data collection techniques have been shown to enable individuals to more accurate represent their identities and needs. A two step identification process, which asks respondents for their gender identification (among a range of several option) as well as their sex-at-birth, is shown to increase the rate of self-reporting. First developed by the Transgender Advocacy Coalition in 1997, the process has since been adopted by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, and more recently the University of California.19 Researchers have found the two-step id process increases rates of transgender identification by 25 percent.20
- 14. Katyal 395
- 15. Robinson & Frost 75
- 16. Moreover, initial research indicates that allowing trans individuals options to self-identify with their preferred names and gender pronouns can, in itself, enable better mental health outcomes such as a reduction in suicidal thoughts. See Russell, Stephen T. et al. “Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth,” Journal of Adolescent Health, (2018) https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(18)30085-5/fulltext.
- 17. Additionally, “45.4 percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide compared with 9.6 percent of heterosexual women, and 29.5 percent of lesbians.” Steele, Leah S., Lori E. Ross, Cheryl Dobinson, Scott Veldhuizen, and Jill M. Tinmouth. “Women’s Sexual Orientation and Health: Results from a Canadian Population-Based Survey.” Women & Health 49.5 (2009) 353–67.
- 18. Juana María Rodríguez, “Queer Politics, Bisexual Erasure: Sexuality at the Nexus of Race, Gender, and Statistics,” Lambda Nordica, no. 1–2 (2016), 176
- 19. “Final Recommendations,” University of California Task Force & Implementation Team on LGBT Climate & Inclusion, May 30, 2014, 12.
- 20. Ibid, 13