Lawmaker flat-out tells trans man he can’t use the bathroom in Virginia State Capitol

Del. Robert G. Marshall doesn’t want transgender people to use the bathroom in Virginia—at all.

The Republican legislator held a press conference on Thursday about House Bill 1612, a recently introduced piece of legislation he has proposed that would force trans individuals to use the restroom that corresponds to their “original birth certificate” in schools, government buildings, and highway rest stops, as well as other places. The bill has been compared to HB 2, a North Carolina law passed in 2016 that led to a massive backlash against the state. The Williams Institute, a pro-LGBT think tank at UCLA, has estimated that HB2 will cost North Carolina $5 billion each year in lost revenue.

Theodore Kahn, a 32-year-old transgender man, voiced his concern about the bill at Thursday’s press conference, asking Marshall where he should do his business should HB 1612 also become law. Marshall’s response? “Not here.”

This statement echoes one made by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the Tea Party favorite who campaigned for the presidency in 2016 using trans bathroom rights as a wedge issue. During a rally in Plainville, Indiana, Cruz said that each of us has the right to live the way we wish, but if a transgender woman wants “to dress as a woman and live as a woman,” then she should use the “bathroom at home.” Stacey Dash, the former Clueless star and current Fox News personality, added to that sentiment by telling trans people to “pee in the bushes.”

Equality Virginia, a local LGBT advocacy group fighting the legislation, live-tweeted from Thursday’s press conference, in which Marshall also referred to reports that North Carolina lost business over HB 2 as “fake news.” In truth, over 150 companies and organizations spoke out in response to the legislation, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft. PayPal and Deutsche Bank pulled planned expansions to North Carolina that would have added hundreds of jobs to local economies.

In a statement provided exclusively to the Daily Dot, Joseph Papa, the Communications Director of Equality Virginia, said that Marshall’s comments telling trans people not to go to the bathroom “get to the root of this discriminatory bill’s intent.”

“Its only purpose to prevent transgender Virginians from using the appropriate restroom,” Papa said. “It’s a solution in search of a problem.”

Kahn, the audience member who posed the original question to Marshall, told the Daily Dot that the bill would have a tremendous impact not only on his everyday existence but the lives of countless other trans people in the state. HB 1612 also stipulates that if trans students request affirming access to bathrooms and locker room facilities in K-12 schools, faculty and staff would be forced to out them to their parents. It’s a direct attack on guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2016 advising schools to allow trans students to use the restroom with which they feel most comfortable.

“This bill negates me as a person, as an individual with the same rights as anyone else,” Kahn said. “It tells me, ‘I see you as less. I don’t think you deserve the same rights as I have.’

It’s nausea-inducing to hear something like that from someone in a position of power. People like Bob Marshall and Ted Cruz aren’t happy unless they’re putting someone else down unless they feel bigger.”

Kahn argued that this bill could be particularly harmful for young people, who already face extraordinarily high rates of suicide. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program reports that 50 percent of transgender youth experience suicidal ideation at some point in their adolescence. The group estimates that 25 percent will attempt to take their own life.

“[HB 1612] means that trans children throughout the state of Virginia will have to use restrooms that don’t correspond to their preferred gender,” Kahn said. “That’s a big deal when you’re young. When I first started transitioning in 2013, using the bathroom was a big deal for me. It was incredibly anxiety-inducing and scary to just use the restroom. For a kid to have to deal with that, that’s awful.”

Kahn said when he began transitioning, he experienced frequent harassment in public restrooms, whether it was uncomfortable stares or outright assault. He was once pulled out of a restroom while working at Barnes and Noble by a man who came up behind him and grabbed him by the arm. While HB 1612 applies specifically to government-owned and operated buildings and businesses, Kahn fears that the bill will be a mandate for others to target transgender people in public places—because they believe that the law is on their side.

“To know that at any moment any time I go to the bathroom that somebody thinks they can take the law into their own hands, that’s terrifying,” he said.

While Marshall’s comment might look like a flippant joke, advocates say it sends a dangerous message to trans people living in North Carolina. Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that the legislator’s remarks indicate that he “does not want transgender people to participate fully in society.” Chase Strangio, a Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, agreed. “Many lawmakers are simply unwilling to accept that transgender people exist,” Strangio said, “and would prefer to pass laws that make it impossible for us to do so rather than include us.”

Marshall, one of Virginia’s most extreme anti-gay legislators, once proposed a bill that would block LGBT people from serving openly in Virginia National Guard. He also backed a constitutional amendment in the state that would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. He has elsewhere claimed that having intercourse with a member of the same sex “cuts your life by about 20 years” and “adds significantly to illness, increases health costs, [and] promotes venereal diseases.”

Marshall reiterated his support of HB 1612 on Thursday, saying it was necessary to prevent men from entering women’s restroom, a claim that has been widely debunked.

“If during the Revolutionary War, if we had legislators that were so timid that they won’t even keep a firm stand on keeping high school guys out of the girls’ locker room when they’re taking showers, we would still be singing ‘Hail, Britannia!’” Marshall told attendees at the press conference, many of whom jeered at his statements. Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, has already stated he will veto the bill.

Virginia will debate HB 1612 later this year.

Nico Lang

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.