Last Friday, an official letter from President Obama sent to all public school districts declared that transgender students would be able to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The move immediately drew criticism from an already impassioned crowd, with both sides embroiled in a heated debate on the topic. As the fight continues, it's important to know how to argue for transgender bathrooms in public schools, since the debate has become a defining issue for the Obama administration in the president's final year in office. While the move had been in the works for months, it struck a particular chord with advocates on both sides of the aisle due to the sensitive theme and the fact that children were involved.
“We’re talking about kids,” the president said in an interview with BuzzFeed News on Monday. “Anybody who has been in school, in high school, who has been a parent should realize that kids who are sometimes in the minority, kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender are subject to a lot of bullying, potentially. They’re vulnerable.”
Conservatives have been outraged by Obama’s directive — schools can face a loss of federal funds if they don’t follow the guidelines — and one Republican figure called the decree presidential “blackmail.”
“This goes against the values of so many people,” current Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick said in an interview with Fox News. “This has everything to do with keeping the federal government out of local issues. "
However, it's not the way the Obama administration has viewed the decree, even though several Republican governors have resisted it. “I think it’s part of our obligation as a society to make sure everybody is treated fairly and our kids are all loved and protected,” Obama said in the same interview with BuzzFeed News on Monday.
The debate over these new guidelines surely won't fizzle out anytime soon. So, if you find yourself in a fraught discussion on the matter, here are some key points that can be used as an argument for transgender-friendly bathrooms in public schools:
The Statistics Don't Lie
Those that oppose the guidance often try to make cases that allowing transgender people in the public bathroom with which they identify could put women and children in vulnerable situations or act as an opportunity for some men to exploit the law and sexual assault someone. This reasoning has been debunked, with some calling it the “bathroom predator myth.”
The truth? There are zero reported cases of this happening. There is no statistical evidence of violence that exists to support this theory.
Progressive media watchdog Media Matters recently spoke with 15 experts — law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates for victims of sexual assault — and asked them if they knew of any incidents of harassment or inappropriate behavior in these states with nondiscrimination laws. They reported none.
It Doesn't Actually Change What's Been Happening For Years
Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and a transgender man, told ABC News in April that transgender people — and in this case students — have been using their bathroom of choice for years — and you probably never noticed it.
“[The] reality is that most everyone has shared a bathroom with a trans person and nothing has happened," Stragio told ABC News. "It is a mundane experience of how it is whenever going to the bathroom."
Trying to ban students from doing something they've probably already done hundreds of times, without incident, doesn't actually help young people and children at all — it does quite the opposite.
Bathroom Policing Affects Transgender Individuals In Serious & Dangerous Ways
In that same ABC News report, Stragio said that this type of enforcement is unconstitutional and is an intrusion into people’s privacy. "All this does is to heighten gender policing of everyone by law enforcement, and individual people who do not conform to gender norms are targeted," Strangio said.
According to the most recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey report, 63 percent of respondents "had experienced a serious act of discrimination" in their lifetime. This type of enforcement is reminiscent of Jim Crow era of "white only" bathrooms, water fountains, and lunch counters. In 2016, that shouldn't be the case — and when it comes to young students, it should definitely be avoided.
The Obama administration's recent decree isn't technically legally binding, but it does provide simple tools that won’t make a student’s bathroom choice a degrading or exhausting task. According to the guidance, school officials cannot require that a transgender student provide identifying documents, such as a birth certificate, or provide any medical validation to choose the bathroom that matches best with their gender identity.
“There is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity,” the letter says.
Even though the guidance has been opposed by conservatives, Obama's stance that society needs to protect the dignity and safety of vulnerable children is a strong argument in the national debate over transgender rights. The letter to school administrators is on the side of equality and that's a move towards change and a great tool to support the argument for gender neutral bathrooms in public schools.