Transgender rights: Where 2016 candidates stand on bathroom bills

Michael Walsh

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a middle school in Terre Haute, Ind., on Sunday. (Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)

The rights of transgender people have become an unlikely talking point in the 2016 presidential election.

Controversy erupted last month after North Carolina passed House Bill 2 (HB2) requiring people to only use restrooms that correspond with their biological sex, as stated on their birth certificate. Civil liberties groups, public servants, corporations and entertainers were among the many parties wading into the discussion.

Supporters of so-called bathroom bills generally argue that girls and women would be put in harm’s way if transgender women were allowed to use women’s restrooms. Critics, on the other hand, say bathroom bills legalize discrimination against an already vulnerable community.

All of the remaining candidates from the two major U.S. parties have sounded off about transgender rights since Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2 on March 23.

Cruz: Keep men out of girls’ rooms

Republican candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz supports the North Carolina law, and has said that it would prevent men from using the same bathrooms as little girls.

“Let me make this real, real simple for our folks in the media who find this conversation very confusing,” Cruz said at a campaign stop in Indiana on Sunday. “If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t go to the girl’s bathroom.”

On Friday, the Cruz campaign released a video that asks if a grown man “pretending to be a woman” should be allowed to use the same restroom as someone’s daughter or wife.

“It’s PC nonsense that’s destroying America,” a video caption reads. “Donald Trump won’t take on the PC police. He’s one of them.”

Trump: Not a problem

Cruz focused some of his criticisms of the opposition to the law on businessman Donald Trump, in part because of the Republican frontrunner’s take on the issue.

On Thursday, Trump told NBC’s “Today” that former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner — a high-profile transgender woman — would be able to use whichever bathroom she chooses if she visits Trump Tower.

“There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate — there has been so little trouble,” he said to the morning show. “North Carolina, what they’re going through with all the business that is leaving and strife — and it’s on both sides — you leave it the way it is.”

Trump said he opposes the creation of transgender-specific bathrooms, which he thinks would be “discriminatory in a certain way,” and an unnecessary expense for U.S. businesses.

“Leave it the way it is,” he added.


Ohio Gov. John Kasich at a town hall meeting in Rockville, Md., on Monday. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Kasich: I wouldn’t have signed HB2

On Sunday, GOP candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that he likely would not have signed the polarizing North Carolina law.

Kasich told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that religious institutions should be protected to “live out their deeply held religious purposes,” but that the issue of religious liberty becomes contentious beyond that.

“Obviously I don’t want to force people to violate their deeply held religious convictions, but we’d have to see what that’s all about. I wouldn’t have signed that law from everything I know. I haven’t studied it,” he said on the program.

According to Kasich, Ohio is not facing this issue, and everyone needs to take a deep breath and respect one another.


Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on “The View,” April 8. (Photo: Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images)

Sanders: Bathroom bills are discriminatory

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders condemned HB2 as a clear-cut case of discrimination shortly after it was signed.

“It’s time to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This law has no place in America,” he tweeted.

On April 8, during an appearance on ABC’s “The View,” Sanders said that if elected, he would do everything in his power to overturn the law.

Sanders said the U.S. has come too far, and there has already been too much discrimination throughout the nation’s history.

“I hope we remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us,” he said on “The View.” “You judge people on their character, not on the color of their skin. And I would add to that: not on their gender or sexual orientation.”

Sanders’ campaign site includes a section titled “Fighting for LGBT Equality,” which says it is unacceptable that people can still legally deny transgender men and women housing.

It also outlines several steps Sanders says he would take on behalf of LGBT rights if he were elected president. One is that he would require police departments to adopt policies aimed at “fairer interactions with transgender people.”

Clinton: Bathroom bills are discriminatory

Democratic frontrunner and former Secretary of State Clinton wrote a tweet similar to Sanders’ on the same day.

“LGBT people should be protected from discrimination under the law — period,” Clinton tweeted. It was signed “-H” to indicate that she wrote the tweet herself.

Clinton’s official campaign website includes a section on protecting transgender rights and ending discrimination against the transgender community, presenting the candidate as a firm LGBT ally.

“Hillary believes no one should be held back from fully participating in our society because of their gender identity,” it reads in part.

According to the campaign, Clinton made it possible for transgender Americans to have their preferred gender reflected on their passports; as president, she intends to direct government to collect better data on crime victims and improve reporting of hate crimes to protect transgender people from violence.

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