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A little compassion should lessen furor over bathrooms for transgenders

If ever there were a solution in search of a problem, it is in the sudden obsession over which bathrooms transgender people are allowed to use. Evidently, though, it is something about which some people are fretting, but the fact is that there are easy answers.

One of them is just to wait. This is a learning curve that over some period of time – a few years to a decade or so – will cause most Americans to shrug. It’s what happened with interracial marriage, with gay rights and with same-sex marriage. Today, for a majority of Americans, each of these is about as controversial as a yawn. So it will eventually be with which bathrooms transgender people use.

Even then, for those who are, perhaps understandably, unnerved by the concept of someone who had been born male or female using the bathroom of the gender they identify with, the problem may sort itself out in more practical ways. Some public places, for example, provide unisex bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling stalls and common washing areas. Such accommodations are not uncommon in some urban areas.

It’s also possible in schools and other public places to allow anyone of either sex to use single-occupancy bathrooms. No one should be compelled to use these bathrooms – that’s where the violation of individual rights would occur – but they could be made available for the elective use of transgender people, if they should choose, or by others who are, for any reason, uncomfortable in a traditional public bathroom.

What should be intolerable is what occurred in North Carolina, as the state and its governor, Pat McCrory – who, not coincidentally, is up for re-election this year – approved an unnecessary and discriminatory law to force transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they are born into.

This is, admittedly, a strange concept for many people, but it is fruitless to resist the changes in science and human understanding. We adapt to change, not it to us.

It wasn’t so many years ago that the concept of being born into the wrong body was all but inconceivable for most people. To Americans of a certain age, it remains that way, but to younger people who grow up with the idea, it will take on significance only to the extent that their elders focus on it.

In fact, this is in some ways a very old issue that has never before attracted attention. Cross-dressing men and transgender women have been using women’s rooms for decades with nobody the wiser. There have been no controversies over women being abused in the bathrooms. These people go into the bathroom simply to use it. There may be abuses, but none that call for discriminatory laws, since such abuses can occur at anytime and in any place by any person.

Laws such as this are little more than an attempt to capitalize on the enlarged fears of a population confronting what is, for them, something new and unsettling. The goal, as always, should be to find a way to move forward, not to penalize minorities who are largely powerless and easy targets for what amounts to abuse.

To doubters who might ask what their rights are in an issue such as this, the answer is what it always is: You have the same right to consideration as everyone else, whatever their skin color, sexual orientation or other human status. Transgendered people are those who have responded to a devastating biological and medical issue. It shouldn’t be too much to ask the rest of us to learn how to deal with it productively and with good will.