Why Transgender Advocates Are Concerned About the Focus on the 'Bathroom Issue'

Advocates say all the debate about bathrooms is exactly what opponents want.

— -- The "bathroom issue" has recently taken center stage in the contentious debate over transgender rights.

While advocates agree it's an important matter, they're now concerned that the attention on bathrooms is detracting from the other equally important problems trans people face but are being overshadowed by the narrow scope of the current discussions, according to advocates.

"This focus on the bathroom as a battleground is really just a distraction from the bigger issue: that transgender people face rampant discrimination daily across all walks of life," said Alison Gill, a trans woman who's vice chair on the board of advocacy group Trans United Fund.

"The opposition has really picked up on bathrooms as a way to oppose trans people's rights without having to explicitly say so," Gill told ABC News today. "We need to stop fixating on bathrooms and start talking about larger issues, which have been made invisible by the opposition."

Trans people don't just face discrimination in bathrooms but also in employment, health care, housing and other public accommodations, Gill said. She added that trans people also face high rates of poverty, violence and suicide -- which are even higher for trans people of color.

Gill said that she believed transphobic people and lawmakers are using bathrooms as a way to "undermine and bury" such statistics and issues.

"Bathrooms are icky, and most people already don't like being in there, so linking that negative feeling with a disadvantaged group is really a good fear tactic," she said.

"They came up in 1964 when opponents of the Civil Rights Act tried to create fears about people of color being in bathrooms with white people," she said. "They came up in 1970 when opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment said the act could would force people to use co-ed bathrooms. And they came up in 1990 when businesses opposing the Americans With Disabilities Act said it was too expensive and difficult to create bathrooms accommodating to people with disabilities."

"After the marriage equality fight, these opponents didn't disappear," Oakley said. "They just needed a new direction, and decided to target the next most vulnerable group: transgender people."