The issue of transgender rights and accessibility, particularly as it pertains to the use of public bathrooms, has been making news in a big way in recent months.
Several southern states have proposed laws that would require people to sue the bathroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, which would discriminate against transgender and genderqueer people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Several companies have taken a stand against this discriminatory law, most notably Target. The company announced that their customers and employees will continue to be allowed to use the bathrooms and fitting rooms that fit their gender. Target has received backlash for its strong stance as a pro-transgender business; conservative opponents have responded with #BoycottTarget and a plan to stop supporting the store as patrons. But while Target’s stance has provoked a strong negative reaction in opponents, it’s also a bold example of why visibility matters.
The advocacy done by trans celebrities, like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, matters. TV and movie storylines about trans individuals, like the characters on Transparent and Glee, matter. Talking about trans issues matters. Pop culture plays a key role in people’s understanding of larger societal issues and how they relate to them. When people see trans people represented in a positive light in media, it normalizes the experience, which is a valuable positive effect for areas of society that are unfamiliar with and/or unsure of the issue of transgender rights.
Just as the media surrounds people in their everyday lives, so do huge, popular businesses. These businesses have the opportunity to and responsibility of reaching massive populations and influencing them. In this era of brands directly interacting with their customers through social media and forming distinct brand identities, it’s important that they proudly and clearly articulate issues that matter to their customers.
The Human Rights Campaign released an annual Corporate Equality Index, which includes a list of the most transgender-inclusive companies: ones that have trans-inclusive health care and anti-gender discrimination policies. The 2015 list includes industry titans like Apple, Disney, PepsiCo, and Pfizer, making it clear that an American would have a hard time trying to avoid supporting companies that are pro-transgender rights. However, while the companies on this list are supportive of transgender rights, not all of them have come out with official statements regarding the bathroom issue like Target has.
The more something is discussed, the more it is normalized. So while it’s so valuable for companies to support transgender rights, it’s even more valuable for them to come out and talk about those rights in a public arena. Other companies like CVS, JCPenney, and Barnes & Noble have echoed Target’s statement of a non-discriminatory bathroom policy. Perhaps we’ll be seeing some more statements from other companies soon.