It will now be a little safer for trans people to use the bathroom in Vermont following the passage of a groundbreaking piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation.
On Friday, Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill designating all single-stall restrooms as “gender-free.” H.333 applies to single-user facilities in virtually all places of public accommodationincluding restaurants, museums, schools, and city parks.
“Two years ago, when I was running for governor, I was asked in a debate whether I would support gender-neutral bathrooms in public places or not,” the Republican governor said during a bill-signing ceremony. “I responded with a one-word answer, a simple ‘yes,’ because to me it was just that simple.”
“And now two years later I am honored to be able to sign that legislation into law today,” Scott continued.
The legislation has received extremely wide support in a state long-known for blazing a trail on LGBTQ rights. Vermont was among the first states to legalize civil unions and later marriage equality; additionally, it’s one of 20 states in the U.S. with nondiscrimination laws outlawing bias on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Senate unanimously approved H.333 in April.
Although the bill passed the House last year by a decisive, 104-vote margin, some state representatives wanted an exemption for religious entities to act in accordance with their faith beliefs. Those carve outs were not reflected in the version of H.333 signed into law last week.
Supporters of the legislation say it’s necessary to ensure that transgender peopleespecially trans youthhave restrooms they can safely access.
“Too many states are passing ‘bathroom bills’ that move in the wrong direction, discriminating against LGBTQ individuals and forcing schoolchildren to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender at birth, not their chosen gender identity,” claimed House Speaker Mitzi Johnson in a statement.
“I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of children afraid to use the restroom at school and Vermonters unable to find accommodation in public places,” she said.
Statistics from UCLA’s The Williams Institute show that approximately 70 percent of trans people have been denied access to a public bathroom at some point in their lives. In a 2013 survey from the pro-LGBTQ think tank, nine percent of respondents claimed to have been physically assaulted during the incident.
To avoid being harassed, threatened, or even violently attacked, many transgender youth avoid going to the restroom at all.
“There are people in this room who purposefully do not drink more than a certain amount during the day just so they don’t have to validate their entire existence every time they need to do the most natural thing in the world,” said trans high school student Nathan DeGroot as the bill was signed Friday.
H.333 is set to take effect July 1, more than a year after the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era guidance allowing students like DeGroot to use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity.
But supporters of H.333 say many communities will benefit from its passage.
“The bill will benefit many Vermonters as they seek to meet their most basic of human needs,” Democratic Sen. Becca Ballin, who introduced the legislation on the floor of the Senate, told the Burlington Free Press.
“For men and women stuck in long bathroom lines, it provides access to any available single-user bathroom,” she added. “[F]or caregivers and their charges, whether children or folks with disabilities needing assistance, it provides access to a bathroom that is not marked for one particular gender, thus alleviating the anxiety that’s caused by needing to choose a gendered bathroom.”
But Scott said the passage of its gender-neutral bathroom bill is designed to send a message to kids who face “anxiety and bullying over something as simple as using the restroom.” It’s also intended to act as a statement of values for the progressive state.
“Treating others in this way is not who we are as Vermonters, and I hope the signing of this bill will send a powerful message that that’s not the way we act,” he claimed.
At the time of writing, just one other state has passed legislation designating single-stall public facilities as gender-neutral. California enacted a similar law in 2017, and like Vermont’s H.333, it does not apply to multi-occupancy bathrooms.
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