When adults pick on a small group of already stigmatized children, it’s ugly. When they do it to stir up fears in hopes of political gain, as Kentucky Republicans are, it’s reprehensible.
Gov. Matt Bevin was right last December when he dismissed worries about “who’s using which bathroom in the public schools” as “nonsense” unworthy of serious consideration.
But, with a chance for his party to capture the House just five months away, Bevin is joining nine states with Republican governors and two with Democratic governors in suing the Obama administration over who’s using which bathroom in the public schools.
Dusting off the playbook from 2004 when the GOP gained by getting amendments banning same-sex marriage on the ballot, Bevin, in announcing the lawsuit last week, got in a partisan dig at Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear for being insufficiently riled up about the potty wars.
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Senate President Robert Stivers is calling out Democratic legislators to support the lawsuit. Stivers blasted the federal directive, which was issued in response to a discriminatory North Carolina law, saying, “I firmly believe this should be a local issue and I am prepared to fight for the safety of our students in Kentucky.”
Stivers’ statement has a couple of problems. There’s no factual evidence that anyone’s safety is jeopardized by sharing a bathroom with a transgender individual. About 30 percent of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are members of the victim’s family, so you could argue that going to the bathroom at home poses a much greater risk.
Also, as a longtime leader of a legislative chamber that refused for four years to enact civil protections for victims of dating violence, Stivers has zero standing to talk about young Kentuckians’ safety.
Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. For four sessions, the Senate blocked a change in state law opening civil protective orders to people in dating relationships. Key Republicans voiced more concern for the alleged perpetrators than the victims.
Finally, in 2015 Kentucky joined 49 states in offering this protection. The Senate’s long unconcern for real victims seeking protection from real threats makes Stivers’ professed concern for imaginary victims of an imaginary threat suspect, to say the least.
In 2004, the marriage amendments drove up turnout among social conservatives and helped Republicans pick up seven seats in the Kentucky House. The key to George W. Bush’s re-election was carrying Ohio, which also approved a marriage amendment.
The anti-gay amendment passed in all 11 states where it was on the ballot. But consider how deeply attitudes have changed since then. As Americans became better informed and more aware, their natural decency largely ruined gay-bashing as a useful political tool.
The current widespread confusion about transgender people is understandable. We think of “male” and “female” as mutually exclusive, but nature is not that absolute. Increasingly biomedical research is identifying genetic explanations for why some people are miserable living as the sex their anatomy seems to dictate.
Baptist minister Mark Wingfield wrote one of the best explanations of the science and morality. He quotes a pediatrician friend who says, “We must believe that even if some people got a lower dose of a chromosome, or an enzyme, or a hormonal effect, that does not mean that they got a lower dose of God’s image.”
Let’s hope the ugly politics of this moment eventually ushers in greater understanding and compassion.