COLUMBIA- After a Missouri lawmaker proposed a bill restricting access to multiuser restrooms, KOMU 8 asked viewers to share their thoughts on so-called "bathroom bills" and gender identity in Missouri and across the country. (For more of our coverage, read: "Bathroom bill" supporters, opponents explain stance on transgender issues)
KOMU 8 asked survey respondents for their general thoughts on gender identity. (Also read our story as some respondents speak more in depth about their feelings.)
One 40-year-old woman said, "gender identity is more than just 'choice.' It's a deeply held belief of who a person is, at a core level."
A 50-year old transgender woman added, "I feel much safer being in the women's restroom and locker room because I'm a woman, period. I'm not in the women's areas to be a pervert, I'm in there to do my business just like other women."
Others said they believed gender correlated with the sex determined at birth.
"You are what you are. You can pretend to be anything you want, but that does not make it true," said a 49-year-old man who responded to the survey.
A 68-year-old man added, "Your identity was set when you were conceived."
A representative from a local branch of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation reached out to KOMU 8 News with concerns about a few of the survey questions.
Christy Hutton, an advocate for LGBTQ communities, said some members of the local trans community were initially excited for the discussion through our survey.
"There was a lot of an initial, 'wow, they're going to have this conversation, that's so awesome,' and then somewhere around the third question people started having some reactions that were, I think feeling hurt," Hutton said. "As though the survey pretty much was a platform for people to poke at the unique identities of another person."
GLAAD defines gender identity as, "a person's deeply held sense of of their gender" and says "unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others."
Hutton said, "Gender is really a personal, intimate part of our life. Who I understand myself to be, what gender I understand myself to be is mine. The idea that somebody else has the right to an opinion about that is a little bit foreign."
Hutton also clarified the difference between a person's biological sex at birth and their gender, which were used interchangeably at least once in the survey.
Restroom/ Locker Room Separation
Of the 1,812 respondents, 17 percent said they support the requirement of all people to use the restroom or locker room corresponding with the sex on their birth certificate, while 83 percent said they opposed such measures.
Of those who supported such measures, most respondents cited safety reasons.
One 27-year-old woman said, "Not having to watch every surrounding... If someone needs to use the restroom, and they're not comfortable with their choices... use a family one where it's both men and women and it's for one individual at a time."
A 59-year-old woman said transgender people are not the issue at hand.
"There are too many pedophiles in our country, and having open bathrooms gives them too much freedom to attack young children who may be in the restroom by themselves," she said. She added she didn't have a problem with transgender people or those in the process of a sex change using the bathrooms.
Other respondents shared the same concerns about sexual predators.
"Who's to say a man puts on a dress and claims to be transgender just so he can rape a woman?" said a 47-year-old woman. "I don't want my daughter in a woman's bathroom with a man."
One 40-year-old woman said she supported the measure as a way to protect the safety of the trans people.
"Kids can be mean, and I fear that trans kids would be subject to bullying," she said.
Of those who opposed the "bathroom bills", a majority cited discrimination concerns.
"If a person identifies with a gender other than one on their birth certificate, why prevent them from using the restroom that is the most comfortable to them?" said a 27-year-old woman. "I also worry that bullying and discrimination will rise, especially in schools, if we have separate bathrooms from people who are transgendered. Separate but equal never worked in the past, why do we think it will work now?
Other respondents talked about their thoughts on gender identity and what it means to transgender people.
"It is not a choice. It is simply their gender. The doors don't say XX and Xy. They have skirts and pants. That means gender, not genetic sex," said a 28-year-old woman. "It is far more likely that an abuser does harm to a trans person (in a bathroom that does not match their appearance) than a trans person is to do harm in their gender appropriate bathroom... or anywhere."
Still others opposed the measures for privacy reasons.
One 49-year-old woman said most restrooms have stalls, and it wouldn't matter who is using them properly.
A 51-year-old woman added, "I feel strongly that people should be trusted to know themselves and their personal care needs better than lawmakers or other outside judges."
Of the 1,786 respondents, 13 percent said they had experienced some type of discrimination in a public restroom, while 87 percent said they had not.
"The only trouble I ever had was when I used the rest room of my assigned birth sex because I was not perceived to be that sex, and I was threatened with violence," said one 60-year-old trans woman. She said she used the other restroom from that point on without issue.
"Getting looks because I don't always pass as a cisgendered man. Feeling as if I'd be in danger if I went into the restroom corresponding with my gender," said one 19 year-old man.
The National Center for Transgender Equality's 2015 Transgender Survey
shows 40 percent of respondents had attempted suicide in their lifetime due to emotional distress, nearly nine times the rate of the U.S. population. The survey also shows 54 percent of those out or perceived as transgender in school were verbally harassed, while 24 percent were physically attacked and 13 percent were sexually assaulted.
Dr. David Tager, a psychologist that specializes in transgender issues, said, "Verbal harrassment is very prevalent -- I hear stories of that happening all the time. They go to the bathroom and someone yells at them that they're using the wrong bathroom. Well what's the right bathroom? A lot of people say how do I choose a bathroom that is safe? All I want to do is go to the bathroom. Where do I go?"
KOMU 8 News asked viewers if they had ever knowingly shared a restroom with a trans person, and if so, how they reacted. Hutton expressed concerns over the possibility of stereotypes stemming from an expected reaction.
"Part of what that gets back to is some of the stereotypes about trans people that aren't true, but that get repeated a lot and do a lot of damage to people who identify as transgender," Hutton said. "It sort of feeds that, 'those are freaks' mentality instead of understanding that, actually that's just a person."
Several people who responded to our survey suggested people who are gender non-conforming have psychological issues, something both Hutton and Tager were quick to dismiss.
Tager said, "In 2011, the APA finally came around and said transgender identity is not a disorder, it is a normal human variation. So what we're doing here with these laws is that we're touching on saying no it's not normal. That's what I don't want to see happen. I want everyone to have civil rights, and I think these kinds of laws take away civil rights"
The site also offers resources for trans people in crisis.
Our special Town Square edition of KOMU 8 News at Noon is posted in its entirety above. Click the thumbnails to see the segments.