On a warm day last summer, Karen (not her real name) left her children with a friend at the outdoor pool of her Midwestern health club to get something from the locker room. Turning the corner as she entered the women’s facility, Karen was shocked to encounter someone whose form-fitting women’s swimsuit left no doubt that the individual was biologically male.

Karen was further dismayed by the fact that the person stood typing on a cellphone in an area where women were showering, apparently unaware of the situation.

When Karen spoke to the health club’s managers, she was told the person identified as a woman and had a right to use the women’s facilities. When Karen told the staff she felt uncomfortable that someone with male genitalia was present in the women’s locker room, she was told that she and her family could use one of the club’s several private locker rooms.

In subsequent discussions with the health club’s management, Karen was told that because managers sought to accommodate all members, they would decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow transgender members and guests to use the locker rooms of their choice.

Karen and thousands of others associated with health clubs, schools and other institutions across the country object to the fact that by accommodating the 0.3% of transgender persons nationwide who want to choose their locker rooms or bathrooms, these institutions have un-accommodated them and opened the door for safety and privacy problems.

But transgender advocates insist that transgender persons, who have specific reasons for desiring to use the locker rooms/bathrooms of the opposite sex, are also concerned about safety and privacy. They also say they don’t directly associate those risks with non-conventional locker room/bathroom choices.

Is there a way to reasonably accommodate all (or most) persons affected by this issue? I think the Lord, who cares for all the persons involved, would want us to seek, above all, the common good.

One of Many Issues

For the past several years, legislatures and other government entities around the country have been debating sexual orientation and gender-identity nondiscrimination laws and ordinances that include provisions for transgender use of public bathrooms. Some of this legislation also involves employment, housing, education, credit and other issues.

Schools are also grappling with the issue of accommodating transgender students. Recently, South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed a bill that would have required transgender public-school students to use locker rooms/bathrooms that match their sex at birth.

While objections to removing gender restrictions on single-stall restrooms have been less vocal, growing numbers of Catholics such as Karen and others are unwilling to share multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms with persons of the opposite biological sex.

Transgender persons may desire to use the locker rooms or bathrooms not corresponding to their biological sex because of preference, fear of harassment or because they suffer from gender dysphoria, distress over discordance between their gender identity and their bodies.

But others say that opening locker rooms to the opposite biological sex, regardless of their gender identity, threatens the safety and privacy of everyone, especially women.

Transgender persons do not inherently present a safety risk, but others pretending to be transgender persons may place locker-room users at risk. In recent cases, male predators, voyeurs and abusers have taken advantage of open locker-room and bathroom policies to abuse women and girls. Karen’s health-club director admitted that her club has no way to ensure that a predatory male won’t enter the women’s locker room pretending to be a trans woman.

Even if transgender persons do not themselves pose a risk, some say they violate others’ right to privacy if they undress in front of adults and children, and if they in turn view them in a state of undress — something prison inmates don’t have to endure.     

A Solution for All?

The Catholic faith tells us we should strive for the common good. By one definition, the common good is “either what is shared and beneficial for all or most members of a given community.”

The Catechism teaches that the common good both respects the person and advances the social well-being and development of the group (1906-1907). How can that be achieved?

One way may be for institutions to develop private changing and shower areas for all in locker-room facilities, as is the case in some parts of Europe. Single-stall bathrooms also offer safety and privacy for all. Some facilities are now being built to these specifications, and others are adapting existing buildings. 

It’s interesting to note that while Karen’s health club and other institutions are not paying attention to the concerns of many in order to honor the preferences of a few, about 2,000 years ago one man did the exact opposite. Christ, of his own accord (John 10:18), gave his life for the good of many. The high priest Caiaphas, who was among those who condemned Jesus to death, unknowingly prophesied “that it was expedient … that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John 11:50).

I believe the Lord would want us to be sensitive to the concerns of transgender individuals — while also respecting the rights of the greater number of non-transgender individuals, especially the innocent and vulnerable.

I think transgender advocates are doing a good job of raising awareness and lobbying for change on this issue. Those who have another idea of how to manage locker rooms and bathrooms should also make their voices heard.

Ways to get involved:

  • Become aware of what’s happening on this issue in your area.
  • Ask your health club and other institution leaders about their transgender practices.
  • If the practices aren’t shared with members, ask them why not.
  • Let lawmakers dealing with this legislation know your position through emails, calls or letters.
  • Speak out on social media, letters to the editor and other venues.

Above all, let’s pray that God directs our actions and shows us how to achieve the common good for our locker rooms and bathrooms — and for all aspects of our society.