Before giving up on his quest for the Republican presidential nomination when he dropped out of the race in early May, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz shared a lot of uninformed and offensive opinions about transgender people and their rights. While conservative lawmakers in states like North Carolina and Mississippi worked to restrict transgender individuals' freedom to use the public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity — a practice that has never caused a documented problem — Cruz repeatedly highlighted his ignorance about what it means to be transgender. "If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t go to the girls’ bathroom!” he said at a campaign event in late April. And even though he's not longer running for office, Cruz used his first major public appearance off the campaign trail to criticize trans student protections, calling the promotion of an inclusive environment in public schools "politically correct lunacy."
Last week, President Obama announced that he would issue a directive to all U.S. public schools to allow transgender kids access to the bathroom they feel most comfortable using. The decree does not carry the force of law, but it does implicitly threaten lawsuits or loss of federal aid if schools do not comply.
Before a crowd at the Texas Republican Convention on Saturday, Cruz trashed the new guidelines:
The president issued a decree to every public school in America demanding that they change their bathroom policies, demanding that every public school now allow grown men and boys into little girls' bathrooms. We have entered the world of politically correct lunacy.
This is far from the first time that the erstwhile presidential candidate has perpetuated untrue and dangerous idea that transgender people are predators. While talking with reporters last month in Indiana, he flat-out said he believes trans people should never use public restrooms, anywhere. “You don’t have a right to intrude upon the rights of others because whether or not a man believes he’s a woman, there are a lot of women who would like to be able to use a public restroom in peace without having a man there — and when there are children involved, you don’t have a right to impose your lifestyle on others," he said, suggesting that trans women harm or otherwise bother others while using the bathroom — a blatant untruth.
In fact, BuzzFeed reported that 17 states and 225 cities have laws in place that allow trans people to use the bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with their gender identities, and there have been zero reported incidents of a transgender person (or anyone posing as a transgender person) using restrooms for anything other than their intended purpose. By contrast, when North Carolina passed its law barring trans people from using the restrooms that match their gender identities this year, calls to the state's trans suicide hotline doubled.
The president's decree exists to simply quell intimidating discrimination against transgender students at school, a place where they should always feel safe and accepted in order to learn and grow. In a statement to The New York Times when Obama announced the move, secretary of the Department of Education John B. King, Jr. voiced his unwavering support:
No student should ever have to go through the experience of feeling unwelcome at school or on a college campus. We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.
I certainly don't equate protecting students' ability to learn in a safe environment with "politically correct lunacy," and neither do most Americans. A recent CNN poll found that 57 percent of Americans "oppose laws requiring transgender individuals to use facilities that do not match their gender identity," like the one passed in North Carolina.
Obama issued the directive that Cruz so fervently opposes to public schools this week to protect trans kids like Nicole Maines, whose family was forced to move to hundreds of miles from their home in 2007 when a fifth-grade classmate's grandfather objected to Nicole using the girls' bathroom. At her new school, Nicole had to keep her identity as a transgender girl a secret.
"I felt like I wasn’t being completely myself. I didn’t feel like I was lying, but I felt awful and it was hard to not be able to share such a big part of my life," Nicole later wrote for TIME. "I felt like I was only giving them part of Nicole."
Politicians fighting to pass and defend anti-trans legislation need to ask themselves what the meaning of "lunacy" really is. Ted Cruz claims he's trying to protect kids by shielding them from their transgender peers, but what he's really doing is giving hate a platform on the American political stage (or, rather, he embodies it). A productive and safe environment is an inclusive one, and guaranteeing that isn't lunacy at all.