Putting It Together: Gender, Sex, and Sexuality

In this module, you learned about gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual attitudes. Remember that sex does not always correspond with gender and gender identity and sexual orientation are not always as clear cut as we might assume in our heteronormative society.

All of these topics are hotly contested in mainstream American media, especially in regards to recent debates surrounding public restrooms and gender identity. Government leaders and school officials argue over the appropriateness of unisex bathrooms and whether transgender individuals should be able to use facilities that match the gender with which they identify.

Those who oppose eliminating gendered restrooms – or opening them to transgender people — voice concerns about safety. Many of them argue that there is a potential danger in allowing transgender women into ladies’ rooms because men posing as transgender women will enter restrooms to prey upon girls and other women. In April 2016, Target drew national criticism after the retail giant announced that it welcomes transgender employees and customers to use the restroom or fitting room that corresponds with their gender identity. The American Family Association responded by launching a petition to boycott Target – an online petition that more than 1.5 million people had signed as of 2018.

The rancor over restroom access has grown as transgender activism has become more mainstream, thanks partly to the high visibility of transgender celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. In recent years, lawmakers in several states, including Kentucky, Nevada, Minnesota and Florida, have considered bills that would restrict the use of public toilets. In March 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that, among other things, requires students in state schools to use bathrooms and changing areas that match the sex listed on their birth certificates. The move prompted a federal civil rights lawsuit, which was eventually dropped when the state partially repealed the bill in March 2017, removing the restrictions on restroom use by transgender individuals.

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