In many ways, of course, it's not fair to compare civil rights struggles. There are many different unique aspects to each that get lost in comparison. And yet, there is some value in doing so, as patterns emerge, and they inform our understanding of civil rights movements as a whole. I don't mean to erase or be insensitive to historic and ongoing hardships when I do.
But modern society has this ongoing and irrational fear of others in the washrooms. In the US south, decades earlier, there was reluctance to desegregate washrooms because of “delicate sensibilities” and beliefs in the inferiority and impurity of entire groups of people. In my I-won't-say-how-long-ago social studies class, I remember participating in a debate that drew from current events at that time about washrooms for the disabled… and whether physically challenged people “making others uncomfortable” was a valid reason for a separate designated third restroom (and although the third washroom we're familiar with today now addresses important accessibility issues, remembering the discussions that led to them sure puts a weird and unquiet spin on them, huh?). In the advent of HIV, there were ignorant comments about gay men in washrooms, borne by fears that had not yet been dispelled by science that AIDS could be contracted from a toilet seat. I don't know if it's because we feel so particularly vulnerable when our pants are down that we forget that everyone else values their privacy just as much as we do, but the public washroom continues to be the perennial final frontier.
It's somewhat bizarre that this persists today with regard to transsexuals and washrooms, because it's focusing something that's not even in trans human rights legislation, something that has already been legal and happening for decades. But such legislation is necessary exactly because uninformed and frightened people are arguing an unfounded and irrational argument as justification for excluding transsexual and transgender people from human rights legislation, specifically because of who they are. Human rights legislation is exactly about addressing discriminating against people because of who they are, and this argument shows that the current state of legislation isn't doing the job.
And every time this has been used in the past, there was hysteria. Every time, it was unfounded. Every time, our society ultimately moved toward progress, inclusion and accommodation, anyway. And every time, we eventually realized looking back that the potty panic ultimately amounted to nothing.
There is only one purpose that washroom fearmongering serves. It proves that human rights protections for all othered individuals and communities are necessary… exactly because this persists.
Exactly because entire classes of people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators.
Exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they seize upon entirely irrational and unfounded fears.
Exactly because these substanceless biases make them want to distance themselves from trans people, and act like it is common sense to do so.
Exactly because opponents seize upon these memes to justify excluding a group — any group — from human rights legislation because of who they are.
Exactly because our society still judges people by classes rather than their own individual merits.
Exactly because the opponents who exploit these fears so entirely want to be able to not hire, to not provide services to, to not be around and to discriminate in any way against certain classes of people that they're boldly willing to proclaim it out loud and don't expect anyone to seriously challenge them on it.
The washroom panic “bathroom bill” tactic is a gimmick approach by our opponents which has a trajectory in which it at first appears to make some sense to the uninformed, and then falls apart once people start to think. If there is enough time for a serious discussion to take place, the meme is doomed to failure. It's ghastly that modern legislators — our allies — fear it to the point of paralysis, when in fact this emperor has no clothes.
(modified from C-389 post at DentedBlueMercedes)