By Emily BazelonAssociated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — For nearly two decades, the National Center for Transgender Equality has lobbied for a federal mandate requiring transgender people to use public restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
The group’s newest executive director, Stephanie S. Scott, is working to expand the mandate nationwide and on issues including sexual assault.
Sitting in her office in the Washington, D.C., office of the Transgender Law Center, she is careful to say that her group is not trying to change the law.
“We’re not trying a policy change,” Scott said.
“We’re just trying to make sure transgender people can be who they are.”
The transgender rights movement is gaining momentum, spurred by President Donald Trump’s order barring federal funding from going to organizations that do business with businesses that do not comply with the transgender bathroom law.
But many experts say it is more likely to be an issue in statehouses and on the national level, where the fight for transgender rights has been more contentious.
Many states have passed legislation to ban transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond to their gender identities, including California, North Carolina and Virginia.
The national debate over transgender rights is now at a boiling point, with the Trump administration moving to roll back Obama-era protections for transgender students, a move that could affect millions of children.
The National Center on Transgender Equality, the nation’s oldest and most respected LGBT advocacy organization, says it’s up to states to define what constitutes a “public accommodation” and to decide whether a transgender person is protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In some states, transgender students and people with gender dysphoria face higher rates of bullying and discrimination than cisgender people, who are more likely than transgender people not to face that level of harassment, according to a 2016 report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
The group says there are no federal laws protecting transgender people in schools, housing or businesses.
Scott said the U.S. needs to do more than just educate parents about transgender issues and that a mandate to use restrooms and lockers that match one’s gender identity would make that effort a reality.
“There is no national standard on what a transgender bathroom should look like or be like,” she said.
“It’s a state-by-state process.
The states decide.”
States that passed laws to ban discrimination against transgender people have had mixed results.
North Carolina’s governor signed an order last month that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity, but critics say it leaves open the possibility that transgender people could use those facilities in the future.
A similar measure in Tennessee is pending in that state’s legislature.
The U.N. Human Rights Council last year recommended that all countries make a commitment to respect transgender people’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
The council also urged states to ban sex-reassignment surgeries and transgender-specific bathroom use, but many experts question whether the efforts will actually lead to any meaningful change.
Scott and others say the best way to fight discrimination and protect transgender people is to pass laws that make it illegal for anyone to discriminate against them in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.
That includes public school students, who make up a growing share of the population and who have the right to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice.
“That’s what we’re fighting for,” Scott says.
“That’s why we’re going to push forward with our efforts.”
Follow AP LGBT reporter Emmett Mays on Twitter: @emmettmays or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/emmettsmays