Opinion: The Bathroom Issue (2/28)

by: Kevin W

In May 2016, the Obama administration issued a joint-guidance from the Departments of Education and Justice directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Last week, the Trump administration rescinded those guidelines, proclaiming that the federal government was giving power back to the states, allowing each state to decide the issue for themselves.

Supporters of Trump’s withdrawal argued that the federal government had overstepped its bounds with the initial guidelines and that the very safety of non-transgender students was threatened by the move. Civil rights groups and the LGBTQ community disagreed, stating that the move invited discrimination against transgender students and that fears for the safety of non-transgender students were not based on any hard evidence.

My Take

The White House argues that the issue belongs to the states rather than the federal government. I disagree: this is a matter of civil rights; namely that no citizen should be discriminated against based on their sex. Civil rights are a federal issue and it is the government’s job to ensure everyone enjoys those same rights.

I believe the initial guidelines were well intentioned. To protect students who feel uncomfortable in their own skin and feel trapped in a body that doesn’t match their gender identity is a noble cause. School is a harsh enough environment as it is: bullying is rampant, with one out of every five students experiencing some form of bullying. For LGBTQ students, that number skyrockets to 85%. Kids can be jerks, plain and simple.

With that in mind, any steps the government can take to reduce discrimination in schools is welcome by me. Current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, stated that she “remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination” but actions speak louder than words. Mandating that transgender students use the bathroom that correlates with their birth certificate is just another way of telling those students “you don’t belong.”

But the fact is some say this isn’t an issue of discrimination or civil rights at all. So let’s look at some of the arguments used to justify their support of keeping transgender people tied to the bathroom that matches their sex at birth.

The Privacy Argument

Opponents of Obama’s guidelines believe allowing transgender people into the “wrong” bathrooms would violate the privacy of those who “belong.” This mindset ignores the obvious: it’s a bathroom, everyone wants privacy in there, transgender people included. As a general rule of thumb, when I am in a public restroom I want to get in and out as fast as possible. I have zero interest in who I am sharing the bathroom with, and I can’t say for sure that I recall a single other occupant when I’m done. We’re all in there to do our business and move on with our lives. So why does it matter?

Additionally, the original Obama guidelines applied only to public school bathroomsnot all bathrooms, which brings us to a simple fact: we’ve been sharing public restrooms with transgender people this whole time without issue. 

But let’s say for the sake of argument that privacy is really under threat: then how would single sex bathrooms be enforced? Transgender people don’t wear a sign around their neck identifying themselves as such. So what would single sex bathroom supporters have us do, check down everyone’s pants before getting approval to pee? Of course not; that would be a massive invasion of privacy. So if privacy isn’t the name of the game, then what else could be the issue?

The “Bathroom Predator” Argument

There’s also a fear of increased sexual assaults used to justify laws forbidding transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. Lawmakers like those responsible for North Carolina’s infamous HB2 bill argue that everyone should use the bathroom associated with their sex at birth, otherwise men will pretend to be transgender in order to sneak into women’s bathrooms. The risk to women and children from these “bathroom predators” is too great, they say.

Yes, there are dangerous perverts out there, but the lawmakers’ argument is flawed. If someone is intent on attacking another in a public restroom, the sign on the door is not going to stop them. A criminal committing assault is aware their actions are illegal yet follow through anyway.

The overwhelming majority of people are not violent criminals and that isn’t going to suddenly change if you let a transgender person into a bathroom. Making the bathroom predator argument presupposes that either transgender people are more likely to be criminals (and there’s no evidence to suggest so) or actual criminals are only deterred by current bathroom signage.

If those scenarios sound ridiculous, good; they should. Evidence from municipalities that have passed nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people’s bathroom rights show no increase in sexual assaults. To the contrary, transgender people are more likely to be the victim of attacks. They are attacked by people who do not understand them and thus fear them.

To take this point and circle back as it relates to public schools: no school-age child is going to pretend to be transgender just for the opportunity to peek at the opposite sex. As I already noted, bullying is a major problem. A non-transgender student wouldn’t endure day after day of emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse pretending to be transgender, so why would an actual transgender student be any different? They’re just students trying to get through the school day, same as anyone else.

In the interest of understanding what transgender people go through, let’s put you, the reader, in their shoes by flipping these privacy and sexual predator arguments around.

Think of it This Way…

If you’re someone whose biological sex matches your gender identity, ask yourself this: how would you feel if you were forced to use the bathroom of the opposite sex? What if the next time you walked into a bathroom, someone demanded you left because your “looks” don’t match their particular definition of masculinity or femininity? What if you walked in and a parent shielded their kids from you, afraid you were there to molest them? Would you be humiliated, angry, maybe even scared for your safety?

These are real scenarios that transgender people encounter regularly, and the fact these events occur should sicken all of us. Everyone deserves the chance to take a piss in peace without having someone scream in their face that they don’t belong. So instead of worrying what someone may or may not have down their pants, let’s remember that we’re all human. There is nothing wrong with these people. What is wrong is opening the door to discrimination and perpetuating absurd myths.

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