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Why are Minnesota lawmakers suddenly so interested in who uses which bathroom?

State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen
State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, right, the lead author of the bill, listening to a question from a member of the House Civil Law Committee during a packed hearing at the Minnesota Capitol on April 12.

The past week at the Minnesota legislature, lawmaking business got overshadowed by a controversial hearing: last Tuesday’s showdown over the proposed law to prohibit transgender individuals from using the bathroom that corresponds to their preferred gender, not their gender at birth.

The scene that unfolded in St. Paul is hardly unique to Minnesota: since 2013, at least 29 states have considered some type of law seeking to define how bathrooms and other public facilities may be used by the sexes.

Those laws vary in letter, but the spirit is the same: restricting use of a designated gender’s restroom, or dressing room, to individuals who were born with that gender. In nearly every state, regardless of how far the law advanced, there was major public backlash.

Along with “religious liberty” statutes, transgender bathroom laws have become the next front in the culture wars. But where did these laws come from, and why are they cropping up now?

A recent phenomenon

The idea to legally define who can use which bathrooms and other gender-specific spaces — and to legally punish those who don’t comply — is a relatively new phenomenon. In 2013, Arizona was the first state to have a prominent battle over the issue in its legislature.

The policy picked up steam from there: in early 2015, lawmakers in more states, such as Texas, Kentucky, and Florida, rolled out bills criminalizing the use of school bathrooms by individuals whose biological sex, or their sex at birth, does not correspond to the sex specified on the bathroom.

In 2016, legislators in 19 states, including Minnesota, have introduced some type of bathroom statute. Geographically, there’s no real pattern, either: the bills come from deep-red Bible Belt states like South Carolina to liberal Oregon, where Democrats control both the executive and legislative branches.

While all the bills seek to impose some kind of legal rule regarding which genders can use which bathrooms, there is meaningful variation in the bills from state to state — particularly with regard to defining sex, exceptions to the rule, and enforcement.

For example, Minnesota’s statute reads, “No claim of nontraditional identity or ‘sexual orientation’ may override another person’s right of privacy based on biological sex in such facilities as restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and other similar places, which shall remain reserved for males or females as they are biologically defined.”

Compared to other states, the bill’s definition of the sexes — “as they are biologically defined” — is somewhat vague. In South Dakota, GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard just vetoed a bill that would have prohibited an individual from entering a facility based on “…a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.” — a far less ambiguous definition.

The language in the Minnesota bill, and the language that was omitted, is somewhat less hard-line than what other states have considered. It specifically outlines some exceptions to the rule, like if an adult of a different sex needs to accompany a minor or disabled person in the facility, or if custodial staff needs to come in.

Minnesota’s bill also doesn’t have the enforcement language that has caused other states’ bills to earn headlines. A Kentucky bill introduced last year, for example, would have made going into a public restroom or changing room for the sex different from the “individual’s chromosomes” a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

A proposal put forth by state legislators in Kansas included a provision to let students sue a school district for up to $2,500 if they saw a student using the bathroom that didn’t correspond with their biological sex.

Transgender issues coming to the fore

A reason why these efforts to clarify bathroom and facility usage are happening now — and not, say, 20 years ago — has to do with the trajectory of the debate on LGBT rights, many say.

In recent years, not a few school districts and universities have adopted elements of gender-inclusion policy, which often entails permitting individuals to use the restroom or dressing room that they feel is best for them.

St. Paul Public Schools, for example, passed such a policy in March 2015, which included other measures, like permitting students to use their preferred gender pronoun, and prohibiting gender-segregated activities. SPPS said the policy was born out of complaints from transgender students about “fear of harassment” and “violations of personal privacy,” among other things.

These policies encountered swift backlash from conservatives.

On the right, advocacy groups have gotten involved in advancing the bathroom push. A powerful Christian legal advocacy group, the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, has distributed model language to local authorities aiming to enact bathroom laws, and has actively encouraged them to do so.

In the past, ADF has also provided pro bono defense to school districts that get legal challenges arising from bathroom policies. Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, who wrote Minnesota’s bill, said that he received no outside advice, though he said he drew on the language from bills in other states, including North Carolina. (In 2015, Gruenhagen introduced language into the education omnibus that would have restricted bathroom usage, but it was eventually dropped.)

Where the debate is going

Despite all the attention, few states that have considered these bills have seen them get very far. One exception: North Carolina, which has a bathroom law on the books. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is in the national spotlight for signing it into law.

Two transgender North Carolinians, along with advocacy groups, have filed a federal lawsuit against the state over the law. They hope the courts will declare it unconstitutional.

In the meantime, several states, including Minnesota, have fired back by banning “non-essential” travel to North Carolina. Several companies have withdrawn from the state, or are threatening to.

In Minnesota and other states, opponents of the bills have criticized the motivations behind them. LGBT rights groups and their allies see them as a tactic to keep them on the defensive and to help gin up grassroots enthusiasm and raise money.

According to Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, “This is right out of the Karl Rove playbook… I don’t think any of this is authentic,” he told MinnPost. “It’s cheap, lazy politics to benefit elections.”

If you ask Gruenhagen, Minnesota’s bill is simply intended to protect constituents. The Republican from Glencoe is a stalwart social conservative, and he is leading the charge for the policy in St. Paul.

Gruenhagen told MinnPost he wrote the legislation because constituents contacted him with concern. The bill, he said in an email, “originated from a constituent complaint to me regarding a man declaring himself to be a woman at her place of employment and using the women’s multi-stall restroom and the distress and discomfort this caused her and other women at her job.”

His law, however, is effectively stalled: there are no plans for it to receive a committee vote, there is substantial opposition in both chambers of the legislature, and Gov. Mark Dayton has promised to veto it should it come to his desk.

But no one is taking that as a sign that the issue is going away — in Minnesota or elsewhere. “It’ll be a horrible period of time for the next few years for our community because of fear-mongering,” Dibble said, though he added that eventually, “People shrug their shoulders and move on. The political half-life of this effort will be short.”

On that point, Gruenhagen disagrees. When asked if he’d introduce the legislation again next session if it were to fail, he told MinnPost: “Yes, I would again introduce the bill.”

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Comments (46)

New Headline

This piece would be more accurately titled Why are Minnesota Republican lawmakers suddenly so interested in who uses which bathroom?

Well said...

It should also have said: "Some Republican lawmakers..."
Alas, truisms provoke fewer comments.

Waste of time and money

Again, what a waste of energy and our tax money, all to perpetuate discrimination. It is as laughable as the fear that boys are "pretending" to be trans so that they can get in to a girls bathroom in schools. Like any teenage boy would put himself in the situation that so many legitimate transgener kids have to deal with as far as bullying and estrangement from peers.
Live and let live. Many countries already have unisex open public restrooms. Once again, the US shows how much we are in the dark ages.

Waste indeed

I suppose someone might have discomfort in locker rooms and perhaps those places can be addressed. However, I have used--and been offered no other option--unisex bathrooms in countless places for years. I have been more irritated by mobile phones in bathrooms than the presence of other people, whom I generally prefer to ignore. This is just such a waste of time--do we have to pay legislators for playing this game?

Note

…that the "Alliance Defending Freedom" seems most interested, in this case, in RESTRICTING freedom for the people toward whom the law is directed. Note also the thinness of Mr. Gruenhagen's rationale for the bill: “…simply intended to protect constituents.” Protect them from what, exactly? Are there 10s of thousands of transgender people clamoring to use bathrooms his constituents deem inappropriate?

And, of course, Ms. Bloom's comment is right on the mark. The culture wars continue…

Protecting Constituents?

I'm shocked and embarrassed that Representative Gruenhagen believes this bill is protecting his constituents. This bill is hateful and by no means represents the community that makes up District 18B. This bill promotes discrimination and creates issues that do not exists to promote his own beliefs which appears to be a trend as to how he uses his position in government.

The next battlefront?

Will they next try to impose a new bathroom-use rule on who you are attracted to? Wouldn't all these homophobes not want gay people in "their" bathrooms? Maybe they could rename all the family restrooms "religious objection" restrooms and put a little cross on the door instead of the male and female symbols. Maybe two kinds of diaper changing stations to avoid cross-contamination.

Another question: when a mother takes her 2-year old son into her rest room when out and about would she then be subject to arrest?

A guy had his daughter in the stall with him the other day, apparently because his wife wasn't around. It was taking them forever to finish. It would have been convenient for me to call the potty police who could have broken down the door and tased them.

Better to just get rid of all the urinals, give everyone equal privacy with stalls with doors and open them up to everyone.

Too large an umbrella

This has been sort of touched on by some of the comments above, but it seems to me that including both bathrooms and shower/locker rooms under the same discussion/guidelines casts too large an umbrella.

What are peoples' thoughts on the idea that it should be a separate discussion to talk about restrooms (assuming individual stalls) as distinct from discussions of shower/locker rooms where there is changing of clothes/possible nudity taking place?

Where are the toilet police ?

Where are the toilet police ? How will they verify gender ? How will they verify birth-gender ?

Who will enforce this BS ?

The party of "smaller/less-intrusive government" placing government into another area of privacy.

No one

As stated in the article, "Minnesota’s bill also doesn’t have the enforcement language that has caused other states’ bills to earn headlines."

It's a...

jobs bill. Think of the training required. Sheesh!

Hmmm?

If such a draconian and plainly stupid law was passed, how could it be possibly be enforced? Would everyone have to got through some sort of security check to enter a public bathroom - modeled after air travel security, but focused on inspection of genitalia? To protect privacy of those screened, what gender would the inspector need to be (most women would not want to have a male inspector, I assume?). And what of those individuals whose genitalia is ambiguous - will they be required to provide tissue for chromosome matching?

I'm glad there are so few important issues that our legislature has time for such ridiculous game-playing...

Not an Issue

The question of how the law will be enforced, or by whom, isn't of importance here. Unless the sponsors of this bill are completely delusional, they can harbor no illusions that it will ever become law ("Derisive laughter from the Senate, as well as the Governor" seems to be the reaction it would get).

The point of the bill is to stake out a new front in the culture war. That, typically, translates into finding someone to marginalize. Whom to pick on now? The battle over gay marriage is done, and there appears to be little appetite for revisiting it. Too many women use contraception to make that a real winner. The transgendered are the only ones left. The only question is how to marginalize them. The average person probably would have little concern about transgender issues, so let's bring it home by taking it to--the bathroom!

It's a political necessity for the sponsors to do this. Their constituents are not the type to get all riled up about economic or finance issues (I suspect there might be more economic populism among the religious than their votes might lead one to think). The way to get the turn out is to fire up the divisive social issues. You know, the ones Republicans always claim they aren't going to focus on this year.

Poor Headline

I think you meant to say a handful of nutter "Republican" lawmakers. The sane MN lawmakers want nothing to do with such a stupid law.

Maybe it is time for Rep. Phyllis Kahn to

Maybe it is time for Rep. Phyllis Kahn to introduce an alternative bill to abandon all gender restrictions on public restrooms. Can't say how she feels about abandoning the segregation one way or the other, but Rep. Gruenhagen's bill introduced in this short session sort of demands it.

Seems like those females who have ever suffered waiting in long lines for toilet time while males relieved themselves, would appreciate such a law whether they are Democrats or Republicans, although I can't say for sure. Don't know about the males or those more amorphous as to gender, but this nonsense has to stop.

I don't know when public restrooms became separate based on gender, but they probably began to be much more dangerous for all the more vulnerable to abuse in society at that point. When I was in school, a fair portion of the abuse that happened, happened in the restrooms with abusers and abused of the same gender.

You could say that gender designated restrooms are the problem, not the solution to a problem that only exists in certain closed Republican minds.

Transgender Bills:

Bathrooms for both genders is the safest way to go as it is quite common in Europe for many years now.

I studied in Europe in the sixties and there were many as this, where a lady friend and I found ourselves in the same Bathroom, and unlike Prudish USA nothing ever happened and we both laughed.

The bathrooms were created to accommodate Human Needs for all, so one room for both sexes, and Genders. Remember they are two different things please. That would also stop the Hitler LIE tactic they have been using for a few years now. [the Republicans that is] Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, supposedly said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it, and he also said, 'Truth is the Enemy of the State."

That is the Bathroom LIE that they use to create false fear in people who follow them without thinking.
The Republicans are Mendacious, in what they say, as they really follow the Hitler Script fully.

Phyllis Kahn be a potent Leader and the first state to enact this type of bathroom, IT'S TIME ! !

What could go wrong???

It is amazing that any legislator could look at the economic fall out in NC and MS: companies leaving and not arriving, events being cancelled and think: "good idea, let's try it here". Any of these guys notice we have recently invested over 2 billion dollars in facilities that cater to events of a national stature? Our state's economy effects all of us, securing the bathroom door makes about 10% of the population happy. What a twisted view of our needs to make a trade like that.

Election Year Politics

I really think this is about getting the base out for November elections and again using misinformation, religion, and fear to do it.

Where have gay and transgender people been going to the bathroom for years and years - I assume with you and me. So now, in 2016, why wouldn't we make that as comfortable a situation as we possibly can for everyone involved?

More bathroom stalls, more Unisex bathrooms, and more compassion for people that are different from us - all of those improvements would go a long way.

What Was The TV Show....

What was the TV show, it was a lawyer show, that had one unisex restroom and plot element regularly involved discussion in the restroom. It pretty much proved that segregating restrooms by sex doesn't really have much of a real point.

The issue is brought up because its a wedge issue by pols who want to remind folks how afraid they are of other people's sexuality.

If some law like this is passed, it's never going to be enforced. The police will see that there is a whole lot of other things that they must pay attention to -- including directing auto traffic.

Ally McBeal

Is the name of the television show.

Bathrooms

There are a lot more men commenting on this than there are women. I don't think most men over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 would care much if a woman walks into the men's room.

But I would like to hear from the ladies. Is there anyone reading this newpaper who will feel a little creeped out by that 6ft-1in woman with a 5 o'clock shadow washing up at the sink next to the stall where you are taking care of business? Just wondering.

Stalls

I don't think facilities with stalls are really an issue. What I'm thinking could be more problematic is situations where everything is "out in the open" (i.e. locker rooms, showers) and that would seem to me to be a separate discussion.

Out in the open

Yes. It still seems to me that we have not sorted this out properly. It is a much more complex public policy issue than the current state of the debate will admit. This is being sold on the basis of non-discrimination and 'privacy' for the person wanting to use the 'other' facility.

Do the privacy rights of your 14-year-old daughter who needs to dress (or shower after) because of volleyball or basketball count for anything?

More and more we have the boot of government placed firmly on the neck of the individual, while demanding 'You will comply.'

Just to be clear . . . .

Just to be clear, I'm not weighing in here on "government boots" and "necks" or anything like that. I'm just interested in sorting out what I think are some of the more problematic aspects of this current debate.

I think privacy concerns in locker/shower rooms rise to a different level of complexity no matter the gender of the person(s) being impacted by a lack of privacy in one another's presence. By simply characterizing these as "bathroom bills", an important detail is lost - that is, bathrooms frequently offer the privacy of stalls. Locker/shower rooms generally do not. So these comprise two different situations which I think merit two different conversations around each of their merits and challenges.

Finally the right question is asked

Yes, what do women (not ladies) think about men in the bathroom, including transgender men? I can tell you that I don't want any man in the bathroom with me. It is a matter of my privacy (remember that expectation of privacy so many people are fighting for--it starts in the bathroom) and safety, which I deserve, and all women and girls deserve. For starters, there are many more transgender men than women, so this is a WOMAN's issue. We did not fight for rights only to be told that once again we have to let men be in our lives in a way we do not want. I don't understand why liberal women don't get this. The privacy and safety (yes, make fun of that all you silly liberals) of women and particularly little girls is not to be threatened because a small group of individuals presents a problem to our society. The transgender people have to make be willing to find a better solution that does not trample all over the rights of women and girls. Legislate the requirement that schools and business have unisex facilities for anyone to use--that would be egalitarian--in addition to the facilities only for men and only for women.

I am pretty pissed off that women are the people expected to sacrifice yet again. We apparently are not the "in" group any more.

Finally the right question is asked

I think this is a women's issue. There are far more transgender men than women, and so this becomes an issue of women once again having to submit to something they don't want from men, i.e., being in our restrooms and showers, etc. The expectation of privacy--a phrase bandied about by many liberals on many fronts--surely starts in the bathroom. There has to be a different solution for this problem, and transgenders have to be open to it. The rights of women and girls can't be trampled on for the sake of some other group. I want privacy and I want safety for my granddaughters (go ahead and smirk, liberals). Businesses and schools can create unisex facilities for anyone to use which can be used by transgender people and anyone else who likes the idea of sharing a bathroom with another sex--very egalitarian.

The fact that liberal women do not see this as a women's issue amazes me. Once again women are being told they have to submit to something men want--to be in our bathrooms.

Minesota Transgender Bills

The Republicans are using a German WW2 propaganda trick that has given them a great False Fear tactic in the USA. Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, supposedly said: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it, and he also said, 'Truth is the Enemy of the State."
The Republicans have been using this as their means of stirring up fear about Trans People across the country. Checkout False Bathroom Fears by Republicans, You may also be surprised at the fact that Republicans have been caught in many ways not in the bathroom for the right business, nasty boys.
Anytime a Republican Talks, Fact Check what was stated, they are not trustworthy.

Europe has genderless bathrooms all over and no problems, when are we goingto grow up and treat the Bathroom as a necessary Human right for all people to use. The blacks had to wait until the sixties why not now for all HUMAN BEINGS????

Why

I think this question is interesting. "Why are lawmakers suddenly so interested in who uses which bathroom?" I think the answer is pretty simple. Because the LGBT folks and their supporters are demanding the freedom for people with man parts to enter a women's locker room.... Seems simple as we have discussed before...

Since the LGBT folks and their supporters have worked to blur the lines. Many legislators and citizens want to ensure the line is clear and defined.

So Ladies, why would you not want men and our boys in the locker room with you or your daughters? Is it their attraction towards women or their male body parts in plain view?

Or are you okay with coed bath and locker rooms?

The reality is that lesbians have an attraction toward women and that pre-change transgender people have the body parts of a man. So if you are against coed rooms, why are you okay with Lesbians / prechange Transgenders in the shower room with you?

I am very curious.

Co-Ed Bathrooms

I am OK with co-ed bathrooms but would prefer to have stalls for privacy. I've been in a bathroom where a little boy was peeking under the stall, which I didn't like, but I wouldn't like it if a woman did that either. As I said, privacy is important to me not who is in the bathroom. If you think you haven't been in a bathroom with a transgender person in the past, think again.

" 3.8 percent of Americans

" 3.8 percent of Americans identified as gay/lesbian, bisexual, or transgender: 1.7 percent as lesbian or gay, 1.8 percent as bisexual, and 0.3 percent as transgender"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_demographics_of_the_United_States

Debra, There are apparently only 3 transgender people per 1,000 Americans. So it is actually very unlikely that you have been in a bath or locker room with a transgender person.

What about community showers without stalls? Are you ready to have a female self identified person with man's body in there with you? Or with your child?

Fear

Fear is a powerful motivating factor. Transgendered people have to weigh the safety of going to a museum. Going to a ball game. Going to a movie. Buying shoes in a store.

Sometimes the need to walk from the parking lot and possibly needing to go to the bathroom causes them to decide not to go hear a classical music recital given by their music teacher. Or so I have been told by the person who chose not to go.

Due to the CeCe McDonald incident trans-people even have to weigh the risks inherent in physically defending themselves from assault while trying to go to the grocery store for food.

John, your fears pale in comparison to the fear experienced by transgendered people every day and in nearly every location they choose to be. Do you have any real life examples to support that your fears are warranted? It sounds pretty theoretical.

No

No, just hypotheticals and I am pretty indifferent to the topic. My point is that this is an issue worth discussing. Even though the Left leaning folks here want to say it is "just politics" and "the Right leaning folks are being unreasonable".

If laws are best used to clarify gray areas where one's actions may inflict physical, financial or emotional harm on another citizen. Then this seems like a good place for a law of some sort.

It is somewhat odd that LGBT supporters want all kinds of laws that open this Pandora's box, however they are unwilling to deal with the challenges that were created.

Let's remember... Only 0.3% of the population is transgender... And after they have changed their parts no one cares. So we are talking about a very very very small population. Personally I think they can use the unisex, family or "their physical sex" facilities until they take that next step.

The Answer is Simple

"I think this question is interesting. "Why are lawmakers suddenly so interested in who uses which bathroom?" I think the answer is pretty simple." Yes, it is. As I mentioned above, it is sheer demagoguery. Anti-discrimination laws in Minnesota mean that refusing service to LGBT people will not be allowed, even though it's what Jesus would have wanted, and there seems to be no serious national effort to repeal the Obergefell decision by amendment or otherwise, this is the best way to keep the base good and riled (You don't really think the sponsors of this bill give a rat's hindquarters for anyone's privacy, do you?).

"Since the LGBT folks and their supporters have worked to blur the lines." The LGBT folks and their supporters are not the ones stirring this issue up.

Why, incidentally, are you raising the horrible specter of the wrong people in the bathroom or locker room only with regard to women? Wouldn't a true concern for privacy extend to the men's room as well?

Target Audience

I understand that Women and Men are different, and I like looking at scantily clad women. If I had to shower with women, I would be uncomfortable at first but I would probably enjoy it after awhile.

Where as I know few women who would want to shower in the presence of a strange man.

Also, having three daughters I am aware that women typically are much safer... That is why we teach our lost children to approach a woman instead of a man.

Finally, many women commenters kept saying they were indifferent. And I don't think they would be.

Women don't know what they want

... or at least that's the gist of "Finally, many women commenters kept saying they were indifferent. And I don't think they would be."

Best turn over your calendar -- it's not the 1950s any more, and "don't worry your pretty little head about it" is likely to get you thrown into the bushes. By women.

Opinions

I would be very interested to hear what women think.

Gender separation

People advocating for transgender people going to the bathroom matching their identity keep ignoring an elephant in the room: We are not talking about restrooms with stalls – they are not a problem; we are talking about open showers and locker rooms where everyone is naked. And when you acknowledge this fact, the only possible and logical conclusion will be that the gender separation will become unreasonable (let alone that it may be unconstitutional).

What Transgender Bills?

I know all would be far more confusing if more accurately described as "The Transgender Johns Bill."

By session's end, we might even see this in omnibus legislation: "The Pot, Potty and Pot Hole Act of 2016."

Now I've got myself thinking of the new "dual gender" currency coming from the Treasury Dept., the next target of variant controversy, no doubt. At least the Minnesota Legislature won't be allowed to tinker there.

MN bathroom bill

I wonder if the bill has a provision for the 1 in 100 births of an intersex baby? Which bathroom should s/he use?

Oh, I doubt it. Nevermind.

Odds

Apparently it is 1 in 2000. I had not heard that term. Thanks for the learning opportunity.

http://www.parents.com/parenting/intersex/

Obvious answer.

All public bathrooms must be single. Enter, close door, use as needed, exit. Sure the sports stadiums will have to be 1/3-1/2 times larger to accommodate all the bathrooms, but it eliminates all privacy problems. It works at large outside venues with hundreds of portable toilets so it should work everywhere else.

Why Not

Why not Men, Women, and Family/Unisex? Men and Women to be determined by body parts.

Behavior versus people

It seems to me that what people are worried about (what they claim, anyway) is a type of behavior that is already illegal. It is illegal to sexually assault or rape anyone in a bathroom, regardless of sex and gender. Leering or making unwelcome comments or showing off one's endowment in various inappropriate ways, I imagine, would fall under the categories of harassment, public indecency, or maybe causing a disturbance--likewise regardless of sex and gender. So it seems to me that we should enforce the laws that govern behavior, and leave the cis/trans identity of people out of the question entirely.

Travel much?

Ever been to Europe? Sit in a sauna with folks you have never seen before, don't know, big kids, little kids, grandma, grandpa etc. etc. all naked as a J-bird as they say! The only thing really in display here is America''s 1500 puritan attitude.

You Are Correct

You are correct. Most of us are not ready for nude beaches. I think that is my point.

Ever been to China?

One kid, you're done. The only thing really in display here is that some countries have different values than others.