Workplace Topics

September 4, 2013

Q&A: Workplace wonders about transgender restrooms

Q: A longtime employee in our federal government office was "Bob" and now is "Barbara." When it was time for Barbara to start living as a woman, she spent a year using a designated unisex bathroom with only one toilet. After a year, she began using the women's multistall bathroom in preparation for her sex-change operation. She has also been taking estrogen and dressing as a female.

Another year has passed, and it does not appear she will be able to have the surgery. She doesn't have the funds, and it is not covered by insurance. How much time does she have to make the change before the agency can take the position that she is legally only a cross-dresser and have her use the gender-appropriate bathroom? We are at our wits' end.

A: Are you sitting down? (Figuratively, I mean.) Under federal policy, Barbara is using the "gender-appropriate bathroom."

"I know this question well," says Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "We built a secret lab at the NCTE; we're trying to invent a transgender person who doesn't have to use the bathroom."

It's a question that the California legislature and the Colorado civil rights agency recently resolved in favor of transgender students. Meanwhile, a U.S. Senate committee recently passed a bill protecting transgender workers, along with gays and lesbians, from workplace discrimination.

In your federal workplace, your office should be following the guidelines set by the Office of Personnel Management: "Once [a transgender worker] has begun living and working full-time in the gender that reflects his or her gender identity, agencies should allow access to restrooms ... consistent with his or her gender identity." Barbara is not Tootsie or Bugs Bunny or any other caricature of a male in drag trying to game the system; she is, in all respects relevant to her co-workers, a woman.

That's true regardless of whether she goes under the knife; OPM adds that transitioning workers do not have to undergo surgery to gain access to the men's or women's room.

You seem comfortable referring to "Barbara" and "she/her" -- kudos for that -- so it's not clear to me what she's done to bring you to "wits' end." If it's simply that some folks just can't get past sharing a bathroom with her ... well, I understand there's a private toilet at your office up for grabs.

Submit questions for Karla L. Miller at

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