By Carly Priest
On Wednesday, February 22nd, 1957, President Donald J. Trump revoked protections for transgender students that allow people to use the restroom and locker room facilities that match their authentic gender. Wait, excuse my typo—Wednesday, February 22nd 2017.
Forgive me: for a second I really thought the United States of America digressed sixty years.
As of a May 13th, 2016 decree under the Obama Administration, programs and institutions that accept Title IX funding must allow transgender students the use of facilities that correspond to their authentic gender. This requires recipients of federal funding to: proactively prevent and respond to allegations of sex-based harassment, accept students according to their gender identity even if their school records or identification documents mislabel them with their birth gender, allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and use sex-specific facilities according to their gender identity, and protect students’ privacy about their transgender status. Though Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton successfully sued for a nationwide injunction which banned federal authorities from taking action against those schools who refused to accommodate their transgender students, since May 13th, 2016, federal policy sent a global statement about the need to protect those most vulnerable.
Again, I repeat: As of February 22nd, 2017, Trump revoked those protections for transgender students and declared trans civil rights an issue of the states.
The right to use the bathroom or locker room corresponding to your authentic gender—to live in public society in accordance with your identity—proves an unequivocal human right in this land of life and liberty. Moreover, it stands as a necessary right: to protect the right to “life, liberty, and happiness” held equally by all citizens—equally by those transgender and those cisgender (someone whose biological gender aligns with their authentic gender identity)—we must protect the right of our transgender brothers and sisters to live in full accordance with their authentic gender. Any action otherwise (or lack thereof) proves far too dangerous.
According to research by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, 50-54% of gender nonconforming and transgender individuals experience harassment and/or bullying at school. Suicide rates for gender nonconforming and transgender individuals are disproportionately high, outpacing other demographics with staggering margin. For comparison: when surveyed, 4.6% of individuals in the total U.S. population report a lifetime suicide attempt, compared to 41% of persons who are gender nonconforming or transgender. Moreover, transgender individuals are disproportionately victim to more violent hate crimes than any other group. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over 87% of all transgender individuals killed between 2013-2015 were women of color. Hate crimes might be an ugly stain on the United States, yet as of 2014, less than half of all states—nineteen, including the District of Columbia—had statutes banning discrimination against transgender people on the basis of their gender.
The primary argument against those transgender protections established by the Obama administration stands thus: male pedophiles will dress up as women to legally enter facilities provided for women, and molest women and girls.
This argument rests on the haunches of patriarchal slander to declare individual liberties and privacy may only extend insofar as they appear to threaten the individual rights and liberties of others, not as they actually do. It does so to declare a fake harm in allowing individuals to use the bathroom of their authentic gender, as it suggests pedophiles and sex offenders would “cheat the system” to gain access to girls and women. First of all, “transgender” and “pedophilia” are completely, utterly, fully, unrelated. Secondly, it remains fully illegal for one person to assault another, whether in a public restroom or a private home, which will not change if we allow people to use the facilities of their authentic gender. Thirdly, the argument attesting the certainty of such attacks does so completely contrary to significant evidence which indicates the opposite—in states where humans are free to use the facilities that correspond with their authentic genders (some cities enacted such legislation as early as 1993), there are zero recorded allegations of someone assaulting another in a bathroom or locker room. Actually, in several countries where transgender individuals are able to live in accordance with their authentic gender (Ireland, Argentina, and the Netherlands among them), there are still zero allegations of a sexual assault occurring in a restroom or locker room because of laws that protect transgender persons. Let’s be frank for a minute: if you believe such disgusting slander, you’re in common company with Michelle Duggar, star of the TLC show “19 Kids and Counting,” who also believes in creationism and takes a moral issue with women wearing pants. Remember when interracial relationships constituted a “state’s rights issue”? When Mississippi had an adoption ban against gay couples until 2016? Has the history of the United States taught us nothing about how dangerous it can be to give individual states jurisdiction over whether or not we decide our brothers and sisters deserve their full humanity and ensured protections?
Besides, there are far more important issues facing this country than if one person should have the right to care about what bathroom another uses: in the example of sexual assault alone, 1-in-5 women will be assaulted on a college campus this year, overwhelmingly by cisgender male individuals. You tell me where the government should put its resources—shall we defend Trump’s hateful decision to strip our fellow citizens of their rights based on 0% of the (literally global) population assaulted by other individuals in sex-segregated facilities, or all the research which shows 20% of the women who walk on a college campus this year will be victims of open assault? For shame: the hateful, libelous argument that masquerades as advocacy for the “protection of women” does not protect women—it simultaneously rejects the real violence incited against women who are forced to use restrooms of a gender that does not match their own.
I did not “choose” the female gender as my authentic gender, but neither did Laverne Cox, Monica Jones, Chen Lili, Janet Mock, or Makana Milho—we are all women, equally woman. I leave with this: if we choose to observe from sidelines, our fingers crossed, muttering our hope that all fifty states choose to see their transgender members in their full humanity, we are guilty for the deaths of our brothers and sisters. We cannot listen passively as some in society try to place their misguided security over the health and safety of others. We cannot watch indolently as our neighbors must fight tooth and nail for nationwide recognition of their humanity, and exhausted carry on, bravely, to fight for the humanity of others they will never meet. We cannot bear idle witness while our brothers and sisters—disproportionately, our sisters of color—face terrible violence at the hands of others in our society, and greater intangible violence at the indifference of all. The consequences are too dire, the stakes too high.
Rae’Lynn Thomas, murdered by her mother’s ex-boyfriend in Columbus, OH