Bathroom Bills: Can We Talk?

I have decided to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to weigh in on a topic that is important to me. Last week, in my home state of Washington, a local news program reported that a man had entered a women’s locker room at a Seattle Parks and Recreation facility and refused to leave, citing a policy allowing transgender people to use the bathroom and locker room that corresponds with their gender identity. Many people, including friends of mine in Washington, were outraged. I, for one, support policies like this one. As a parent, teacher, and volunteer, I am and always have been a passionate defender of children. Please hear me out.

Policies like these protect the rights of transgender people to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. They do not permit men to use women’s restrooms or locker rooms. THEY DON’T. Transgender women are women. Likewise, transgender men are men. Opponents of such policies need to stop using the term “transgenders.” It’s an adjective not a noun, and to use it as the latter is dehumanizing. Frankly, if a transgender person entered the same bathroom as you, you probably wouldn’t know. I’ve heard people say that they don’t know anyone who is transgender, and you can’t really say that. The most you can say is that no one you know has told you they are transgender. And considering the hatred they face, can you really blame them?

It is pretty apparent to me that the man in this news story did this as a kind of protest. He clearly does not identify as transgender. He wanted to show how easy it was for him to enter the women’s locker room. Then people could say, “See? We told you this would happen!” Well, not exactly. You see, the policy doesn’t protect this man. IT DOESN’T. He was asked to leave, and rightly so, because he does not identify as a woman. It is fairly easy to tell when someone is being disingenuous like this man was, and the policy doesn’t prevent authorities from taking appropriate steps to remove someone like this.

The argument I hear most often is that this opens the door for assaults. First, it is incredibly offensive to equate transgender people to sex offenders. Can you guess the number of assaults by transgender people in bathrooms? It’s ZERO (http://mic.com/articles/114066/statistics-show-exactly-how-many-times-trans-people-have-attacked-you-in-bathrooms). Second, the last time I checked, there were no locks on public restrooms and locker rooms (beyond the individual stalls). This hasn’t changed because of these policies. If someone wants to enter a facility of the opposite sex, they can just walk in (and I’ve seen plenty of women balk at a long line for the bathroom and head into the men’s room without being accused of anything.) It’s not as if these policies are taking away a layer of protection; it wasn’t there to begin with.

A supporter came under fire for saying that “women will just have to deal with it.” I agree that this is a callous statement. However, remember that what women are being asked to “deal with” is not danger or violence. What they must deal with, perhaps, is (at the most) discomfort. Being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe.

Many opponents of trans-inclusive policies are parents. They want to protect their children, and I get it. I’m a mom to a 9 month-old daughter. That being said, I have no problem with trans women in the same bathroom or changing room as us. I know they’re not a threat. Furthermore, I want my child to grow up accepting of other people, and that becomes difficult when transgender people are treated like criminals.

If you had a child in my classroom, you know how much I care for them and would do anything to keep them out of harm’s way. That protection extends to all children, including those who identify as transgender. (If you’ve never known a transgender child, meet Ryland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAHCqnux2fk.) All our students deserve to have accessible facilities that are safe spaces for them. Although incidents of assault and harassment by transgender people are non-existent, those perpetrated against them are all too common. These policies not only protect transgender youth, they also affirm their identities and show them that they are respected. 50% of transgender youth will attempt suicide before their 20th birthday according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program. This truly is a matter of life and death.

The media is doing a great job of fear-mongering, but we don’t have to fall victim to it. Keep in mind that many of the arguments against transgender inclusion were used to protest racial integration during the Civil Rights Movement. Let’s make sure we’re standing on the right side of history.