John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Arizona wants to tie bathroom access to birth certificates; scientists sound warning about pit latrines; a municipal government does BYO toilet paper.
If you were born a man but now live as a woman, you're not allowed to read this females-only story. Please consult past issues of Toilet Tuesday:
FEAR OF A TRANSGENDER TOILET, IN ARIZONA
Since when did freedom-loving Arizona become so uptight about having the proper paperwork? Last year the state tried to make immigrants carry documentation at all times, and now it's considering limiting which bathrooms people can use based on the sex listed on their birth certificates. What is Arizona's state motto again – "I want those forms stamped in triplicate"?
The proposed measure, sponsored by Republican state representative John Kavanagh, mandates that biologically born men must never use the women's restroom without a couple far-out exceptions like saving a life, and vice versa. Dubbed by local media as the "Show Me Your Papers Before You Go Potty" bill, the ordinance would dish out a potential six months in jail to anybody crossing the thin poo line from Yuma to Flagstaff. Penalties would apply not just to commodes but showers, dressing rooms and the locker areas in gyms as well.
Kavanagh's bill appears to be a counterstrike against Phoenix recently extending anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBT folks in places like public housing and restaurants. The lawmaker says this progressive measure could open the door to – you guessed it – child abuse, reports the Associated Press:
In Arizona, where Republicans control state government, Kavanagh said government shouldn’t allow people to use facilities based on “you are what you think you are.” He said he was worried an anti-discrimination ban passed in Phoenix last month would serve as a cover for pedophiles who want to expose themselves to children of the opposite gender.
“This law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women,” he said. “For a handful of people to make everyone else uncomfortable just makes no sense.”
Tucson passed a measure similar to Phoenix's many years ago without society exploding into smoking rubble, for what it's worth, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Any transgender person doing a pee dance in front of a public restroom will not gain much help by consulting the ambiguous state law, which requires either a doctor's sex-change note or a chromosomal count indicating a sex different from what's on one's birth certificate, whatever documents that may entail. Fittingly, Kavanagh's bill is being delayed right now because his staff did not have the "appropriate paperwork."
THE PITFALLS OF PIT LATRINES
As the world races to build toilets for the estimated 2.5 billion people without them, scientists are noting a possible fetid repercussion of bathroom globalization. The problem relates to pit latrines, dry toilets that if not built to spec can release “potentially life-threatening diarrheal diseases” into the groundwater.
Pit latrines are important fixtures for promoting public health in developing nations, with about 1.8 billion people relying on them to heed the call of nature. But 2 billion people also tap the land around these latrines for drinking water, not always realizing they could be ingesting a microbial soup escaped from poorly constructed toilets, according to American researchers. Just how often that happens is unknown, which is kind of the problem. “Although groundwater contamination is frequently observed downstream of latrines,” they write, “contaminant transport distances, recommendations based on empirical studies and siting guidelines are variable and not well aligned with one another.”
Even more research is needed to anticipate what effect rising sea levels could exert on pit toilets, the scientists say. If urban planners site them too close to the coastline – like in the slums of East Asia, for instance – future floods could take all the nasty toxins held the latrines and spread them over large distances inland. (Full study.)
(A TP dispenser in a Texas general store. plong/Flickr)
In the future, will municipal unions fight for the right to have their own toilet paper? That's possible in Windsor, a town in east-central Missouri, which allegedly forced public-works employees to bring their own TP to work.
The issue was that Windsor's 10 male employees at the “municipal barn” – that's Missouri-speak for either the public-works garage or an actual barn full of livestock – were using so much paper that it was supposedly stressing their budget, reports KCTV. So to teach them a lesson in austerity, or something, the brass told them that Windsor's days of sweet, no-strings-attached single-ply were over.
The TP shortage hit the news when a somebody at a public meeting offered to stage a fundraiser for the deprived employees. "I was just really incredulous that this was a topic to be brought up at a City Hall meeting, much less have any truth to it," said Mayor Justin Brown. "The number one emotion is embarrassment. We have a lot of good things going on in our little town, and this is the topic."