By now we all know that Department of Education and Justice have issued guidelines for public schools on how they should treat transgender students. They basically say that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom, locker room, and changing area of the gender they identity with. The guidelines also state that schools must accept the student’s and parent’s word about gender, name, and pronoun when it comes to school records and form of address. (Schools may not refuse to address a transgender boy as “he,” for example, if that’s what the boy in question wants.) If non-transgender students or their parents object to this, the objector may, at the school’s option, be given a segregated bathroom or changing area.
In other words, the objectors will be separated out, not the transgender students.
These are guidelines, not laws, but districts that don’t follow them run the risk of losing federal money, which usually consists of 5-10% of their budget, depending. That’s a lot of money, so it’s a big stick.
The right wing is howling that this is blackmail, extortion, and overreach, and why are we doing this when less than 1% of the population is transgender?
Let’s look at what’s happening here.
First, the idea that it’s blackmail or extortion or overreach is a flat lie, part of a two-year-old’s tantrum. The federal government doesn’t give money away for nothing. When the feds offer you money, it comes with strings. Every state, for example, gets money to build and maintain interstate highways. This money, however, can’t be used to repair a governor’s mansion. Also, the contractors who use that money to repair interstate highways have to follow federal rules, including federal safety regulations and federal employment rules. If they don’t follow those rules, the feds will take the money away.
This is what’s happening here. The federal government has NOT passed a new law. It has, instead, told public schools that receiving federal money has a new condition–treating transgender students a certain way. Schools that opt out of these guidelines can’t get that money. It’s the fed’s money. They get to decide how to spend it. I find it interesting that the loudest “we won’t stand for this” protests about this are coming from Texas, the largest receiver of federal money in the country.
Second, the “it’s less than 1%” argument is horrible. The size of a group has never dictated its eligibility for equal rights and protection. Native Americans are 1.7% of the population, but no one (these days) would consider passing laws that ban them from using the same bathrooms as everyone else. Asians are 5% of the population, but no one would pass laws allowing the rest of us to ignore their civil rights.
The students who have a problem with sharing a restroom with a transgender person have the option of using a segregated bathroom of their own. This is the right way to handle things. The person who has the problem removes himself from the situation. Don’t like nudity in movies? Don’t go to those movies. No reason to close the theaters to the rest of us. Don’t like reading? Then don’t read. No reason to close the library for the rest of us. If you have the problem, remove yourself. We don’t need to remove it for you.
Why does all this matter? The federal government is sending a message: in America, we are to treat everyone equally, and =this= is what equality means. It validates transgender students and their struggles to survive and thrive in our society. It says, “The federal government has your back.”
It’s also important–and incredible–how FAST all this has happened. Two years ago, transgender rights were barely on anyone’s radar. Now suddenly everyone’s talking about them. Amazing!
Really, this trumped-up fight is the last gasp of the right wing on LGBT issues. They lost big on same-sex marriage, and they’re steadily losing ground on LGBT equality elsewhere. They’re trying for some clawback, desperate to get something, anything, to hold as a victory. First it was wedding cakes and photography, now it’s bathrooms. Bathrooms! The right wing has been reduced to arguing about where people pee.
The sad thing is, they don’t seem to understand how far they’ve fallen–or how to stop.
–Steven Harper Piziks