The movement to ban students from using restrooms that conform to their gender identity is a solution in search of a problem. There is no evidence, no data that these young people present a threat to their fellow students or anyone else.
However, it’s a solution that can cause lots of problems and a great deal of pain.
Transgender people are much more likely to be victims of sexual violence. Forcing them to use restrooms set aside for them or for those of the gender with which they don’t identify is akin to placing a target on their backs.
Henry Brousseau hated using the unisex bathroom in his public high school in Louisville before it adopted a policy allowing students to use the restroom of their gender identity. Born a girl, he had identified as a male for three years when he spoke to a Kentucky Senate panel last year.
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“I was outing myself every time I had to go in there,” he said. Using that unisex bathroom put him in the crosshairs of potential harassers, marking him as something other than the “normal kid” he wanted to be.
Henry’s concerns are at the heart of the U.S. Justice Department’s battle with North Carolina over HB2, the law just passed in a special session to overrule a fairness ordinance in Charlotte and compel public schools to make students use the bathrooms of the gender identity assigned to them at birth.
The Justice Department sued North Carolina, saying HB2 violates civil rights. Friday, Justice joined the Department of Education in a joint letter to schools saying they must assure all students, including transgender students, “can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.” Implicit is that schools that violate this principle risk losing federal funding.
This is not a departure from previous federal guidance, nor is it new to many schools. Atherton High in Louisville, where Henry attended, adopted a policy in 2014 allowing students to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Atherton principal Thomas Aberli told the Louisville Courier-Journal Friday that the new policy had been a “non-issue.” “Students feel safe and that we value the diversity in our school and see it as a strength rather than divisive.”
Aberli acknowledged that changing mindsets about gender identity can be difficult but “as leaders we must do our research” to understand the issue and the impact of discrimination on students.
Not feeling accepted takes a tremendous toll. Transgender kids attempt and commit suicide at a greater rate than their peers, and they miss school more often.
If it weren’t so serious, these bathroom bills would be ridiculous. Politicians whine that a bullying federal government is trying to force its values on states while state legislatures try to force their values on their own cities.
And of course these laws are unenforceable. Would a bathroom monitor stand outside every door, demanding a valid copy of a birth certificate or inspect genitalia before kids can enter? Or should students use their cell phones to spy on their peers inside stalls?
But neither human dignity nor common sense is enough to stop those who want to raise money or bolster political careers by demonizing transgender students who just want to be themselves.