Imagine you’re the parent of a transgender child attending public school. You and your child have already had more than your share of grief, knowing that you live in a culture that doesn’t always understand or welcome difference, knowing that folks get particularly weird when the difference applies to sex or gender identification.
Most of us are familiar with North Carolina’s gender-discrimination problems because that state had the distinction of passing a law stating that children had to use the school bathroom consistent with the gender assigned to them at birth. That was over a year ago.
Then, in an act of compassion, common sense and pragmatism, President Obama issued a directive in May saying that students were free to use the bathroom of their choice, based on only one factor: how they chose to identify themselves. A child who identified as a boy could use the boys’ bathroom and a child who identified as a girl could use the girls’ bathroom. If a school or college received public funding, it was compelled to follow the new guidelines.
Then Donald Trump was elected president, and the rollback of civil liberties began. Last week, Trump specifically rescinded Obama’s directive on bathroom use, throwing individual kids, their parents and their home schools into chaos.
According to The Washington Post, “Officials with the federal education and justice departments notified the U.S. Supreme Court last Wednesday that the administration is ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Obama administration issued during the past two years regarding transgender student rights. Those memos said that prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws.”
Both Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos basically said that some of their best friends were transgender; nevertheless, a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl, and when people claim otherwise, let the states figure it all out. Jeff Sessions, the current and possibly future attorney general (if he isn’t forced to resign), applauded Trump’s move from the sidelines. Sessions is a longstanding opponent of LGBT rights.
I wrote about transgender issues last April, when many of us were in a froth over North Carolina’s inhumane school bathroom rules. I wrote then, “Getting to know a few people who are in various stages of gender readjustment has been the most powerful education.
“When I was growing up I didn’t know anyone (I believed) who was transgender, nor did I have any understanding of what it meant to be born in a body that is different from how one thinks and feels. Homosexuality moved out of the shadows in my own lifetime. Young people today might find it surprising that in the Long Island high schools of the 1960s, there were few openly gay students, no gay organizations and basically no awareness that there was such a thing as a transgender person, unless you happened to be one. And if you were, there was no one to turn to with your feelings. Then, as now, transgender people had disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide.
“. . . We now have laws like Title IX that forbid discrimination based on gender, and we now have state guidelines like the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students Guidance. The Herald reported on the new guidelines [in 2015], when they were enacted, but my hunch is that few people have actually read the new rules or advocate for transgender rights.
“I invite readers to give the issue some thought. If you’re transgender, you already know what I’m talking about. If not, you may see someone at work, a friend, a child in the classroom or at your dinner table, a new roommate at college or a traveler in your group, and realize that he or she may be transgender or gender-enhanced or gender-nonconforming.”
We need to be moving toward gender-neutral bathrooms in all public places, including schools. Until then, children and adults should be able to use the bathroom of their choice. No one is saying that there won’t be problems along the way, but open minds will open hearts, and acceptance will ultimately trump bigotry. (Yes, I really believe this.) We hate what we don’t know.
If not for your own sake or your child’s or your grandchild’s, then for someone else’s adored child, think about how it might feel to know that you’re a girl when you’ve been born into a boy’s body, or vice versa, or somewhere in between. It is a lifelong struggle for transgender people, and the least we can do is educate ourselves.
When I wrote about this a year ago, my headline was, “When closed minds creak open, light floods in.” Trump’s new directive has shut the door on enlightenment and invited discrimination into the room.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.