‘Bathroom law’ heightens concerns for transgender GA attendees

A new law in Utah bars transgender people from using, in certain places, restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.

As the upcoming General Assembly (GA) was being planned for Salt Lake City, Utah, the state passed a bill that bars transgender people from using restrooms that correspond to their gender identities. The Office of the General Assembly immediately went to work on a plan to protect transgender participants attending GA226, to assure that they will be safe and not experience discrimination.

“We received a mandate from GA225 that said we must have gender-diverse restrooms, restrooms that accommodate all genders,” said Kate Duffert, director of GA Planning for the Office of the General Assembly. “The Presbytery [of Utah] has been active in communicating with local leaders and state legislators about their disapproval of the law.”

While safety concerns loom because people can be arrested for breaking the law, Tim Haworth, a ruling elder and member of the LBGTQIA+ Equity Committee (ACQ+E), said, “These laws also have an impact on the well-being of people. The law is demeaning, and we are concerned about the impact this has on participants — physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

When Haworth and other advocates for gay and transgender Presbyterians reached out to Duffert, they discovered she was already in contact with city administrators and the Palace Convention Center hosts to clarify how the law would affect GA attendees. 

The law actually refers only to bathrooms in schools and government buildings. Anyone who uses a bathroom or “changing room” that does not match their sex assigned at birth could be charged with trespassing. Violators could also be charged with loitering, lewdness or voyeurism, depending on their behavior.

The law does not apply to convention center restrooms. But it does apply to restrooms at the airport.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have control at the airport,” Duffert said. “But I do know that the committee on local arrangements will have people who will be on-site (at the airport) to meet people and assist in many ways, including with restrooms.”

Haworth said ACQ+E expects to have some greeters at the airport as well.

“The law is based on this outdated idea that your sexual identity is determined only by your genitals,” said Haworth. “Our concern is that they are criminalizing the use of restrooms …” 

Duffert said planners will add new signage at the convention center, even though the law does not apply to bathrooms there.

“We know that doesn’t mean the law can’t be misconstrued,” said Duffert. “We are making sure to have clear signage and single-stall rooms.”

Meanwhile, before the late-June, early-July event, Duffert’s planners and ACQ+E members expect to distribute information on the law and some “do’s” and “don’ts” to GA participants through printed literature, on the GA website, through emails and on social media.