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Bathroom Politics

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Joseph Losco

Bowen Center for Public Affairs

Since North Carolina passed a law requiring transgendered individuals to use the public bathrooms appropriate for their biological sex and not their preferred gender, it has faced some serious economic consequences.  The electronic payment service PayPal stopped their plan to bring 400 new jobs to the state and the National Basketball Association has threatened to cancel plans for holding the 2017 All Star game in Charlotte.  What makes the North Carolina legislation particularly onerous for some is the fact it that bans local jurisdictions from passing their own laws allowing the transgendered to use the bathrooms in which they feel more comfortable. Governor Pat McCrory who signed the bill is clearly feeling the same pain suffered by Mike Pence in the wake of the RFRA controversy in Indiana last year.

While the North Carolina experience has halted plans for similar legislation in other states including Tennessee and Virginia, others, like Mississippi–and some cities like Houston–have gone ahead with plans to limit bathroom options for the transgendered.  It won’t be long until the same issue arrives in Indiana.

The 2015 IndyStar/Ball State Hoosier Survey gives us an idea of how the issue will play in Indiana.

In that survey of Hoosier adults 18 and over conducted from October 8-13, 2015, a majority of Hoosiers (53.6%) agreed (strongly or somewhat) that businesses and government buildings in Indiana should provide gender-neutral bathrooms while 35.3% either somewhat or strongly disagreed.  More females (63.2%) than males (43.4%) either strongly or somewhat agree that businesses and government buildings should provide gender-neutral bathrooms. Republicans are evenly split on the issue (44.3% agree to 47.2% disagree) while Democrats support a requirement for gender neutral bathrooms by a margin of 61.2% to 25.4%.

Concerning the use of public bathrooms by the transgendered, a plurality of Hoosiers believe transgendered individuals should be required to use the bathrooms for the gender of their birth (44.9%) rather than the bathroom of their preferred gender (34.4%).  There is a clear difference on this issue among male and female respondents.  While 41.9% of female respondents believe the transgendered should be able to use the bathroom of their preferred gender, 53.6% of male respondents said they thought the transgendered should use bathrooms for their birth gender.  Here is the question and a breakdown of results:

Given the division of opinion over the issue and the controversy it has drawn, you can expect heated debate when the issue surfaces in the legislative chambers next session.

Full survey results are available here.