Going to the bathroom used to be a private thing. Even public bathrooms used to be private in that no one cared or bothered you while you did your thing. You went in, you did your business, and you went back to class. Taking a leak didn’t used to be a political statement. But at some point, Republicans decided that the small government they wanted should still big enough to determine which bathrooms people should be allowed to use.
Oh sure, they don’t want to tell coal miners how to dispose of their toxic waste, but if there happens to be a transgendered kid at your high school, they have a hot take for you.
When President Obama issued guidance to public schools saying they should let transgendered students use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using, the right lost their collective mind. They built up their strawmen arguments and went to town, saying we have to protect our women and children from perverts who hang out in bathrooms hoping to see a little girl pee. The way to do that, you understand, is to enact laws that prevent transgendered women from going to the women’s bathroom.
I had this argument dozens of times:
“We have to protect the women from perverts.”
“Transgendered women aren’t perverts. They don’t tend to molest children or even care about who’s peeing in the next stall.”
“But a pervert might take advantage by putting on a dress and going in the women’s bathroom.”
“Then why not enact legislation increasing the sanctions for molesting women in public bathrooms? Why enact new legislation aimed at a completely different group of people than the ones committing the crimes?”
Many of these people assured me that they didn’t have anything against trans people, they just didn’t want some man to put on a dress and get his jollies in the ladies room. Their logic seems to work like this: If I see a man in a dress go into a ladies room, I might not report it because I don’t want to be called transphobic. That’s dumb.
Naturally, whenever some weirdo was caught in a bathroom trying to see women pee, I got all the clips in my email and was tagged in social media posts.
“See!?! This pervert put on a dress and tried to videotape women peeing!”
“But he isn’t transgendered. What he’s doing is already illegal.”
That’s when I get accused of being a “libtard” who doesn’t “get it.” But I do get it. Trans people need to pee like everyone else. They need protection from perverts who want to peek into their underwear before letting them go to the bathroom to make sure they use the “right” door.
This brings us to President Trump — a man who bragged about how owning a beauty pageant meant no one would stop him when he took a stroll through the dressing rooms at Miss Teen USA. That is literally true. He bragged about it to Howard Stern. He didn’t even have the courtesy to put on a dress while he did it.
But back in June, he claimed to be a champion of the LGBT community.
Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2016
It turns out, Trump was the one to bring in people who threaten the freedoms and beliefs of the trans community — Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Pence has a long history of trying to enact legislation to legalize discrimination against LGBT people. And in the senate, Sessions was one of the most hostile senators in terms of LGBT rights.
It started with a leaked draft executive order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” This nearly mirrors Pence’s RFRA bill in Indiana that caused him so much trouble a few years ago. It allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of “deeply held religious beliefs.” The memo got out, was roundly criticized and died, according to reporting, when Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, White House senior advisor, pushed to kill it.
One wonders why they haven’t wielded this influence with respect to the trans community.
Yesterday, the Trump administration lifted the protections for trans students in public schools enacted by Obama in 2014. Out of curiosity, I searched for what I was certain would be waves and waves of stories about trans students molesting girls in locker rooms over the last three years, but I came up empty.
So why is this a priority for the Trump administration? Reporting suggests that Sessions pushed for this. That old unreconstructed racist hasn’t wasted any time being a terrible person. Several reports say newly minted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos offered some pushback on the order but was told by the president to sign off or quit. I can understand why she didn’t quit. She paid a lot of money for that cabinet position and it’s not like trans students are people or anything. But DeVos added insult to injury on Twitter.
I consider protecting all students, including #LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED) February 23, 2017
That brings us to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
The Obama administration guidance said trans students are covered under Title IX, saying that the law’s injunction against discrimination based on “sex” should cover gender identity. A federal district court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction in 2016 until the guidance could be adjudicated. Sessions withdrew the guidance, ending that court action.
Case law, as it turns out, was not in Session’s favor. Transgender plaintiffs had successfully won court cases involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title IV rules barring sexual discrimination in the workplace. Other successful cases involved the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Credit Act, and Title VII. Had Sessions not pulled the guidance, it is likely the courts would have found in favor of trans rights. That’s why he had to pull the guidance now. Waiting would have codified these protections.
So now the Trump administration falls back on the old “states rights” chestnut. Surely, they argue, local officials have a better understanding of the needs of the community and can provide local solutions without those horrible federal mandates.
I disagree. I believe one of the problems with our public education system is that we give too much deference to local school boards. Either trans students have rights or they don’t and the equal protection clause in the Constitution suggests that those rights shouldn’t depend on which county or state the trans person lives.
In my home state, Sen. Mae Beavers has introduced a trans bathroom bill. She paid no heed to the problems North Carolina had with HB2. She paid no heed to similar problems in Texas. She paid no heed to constituents or Tennessee-based businesses that understand these draconian and puritan legislative efforts only serve to hurt the state’s economy. Businesses don’t want to relocate to a state where their employees face discrimination.
But beyond the economic arguments, it is just bad policy to single out a vulnerable community for punitive and discriminatory legislative action. It hurts the people she was elected to serve.
During the election, people tried to tell me that Trump wouldn’t be horrible on LGBT issues. He’s a Manhattanite, they said. He doesn’t have the bigotry for the LGBT community that other Republicans have. Besides, Ivanka would keep him in line.
Like much of what I was told about Trump during the campaign, this is poppycock. He may say that Caitlin Jenner is welcome to use whatever bathroom she wants in Trump Tower, but if you’re not a famous trans person, I guess you can go pound sand. His actions indicate that he feels fine with your rights being determined by the sensitivity of some locally elected school board that’s probably still mad they can’t start their meetings with a prayer anymore.
Sessions may have won a battle, but the courts will eventually determine that Title IX covers all of us. Not just the people of whom he approves.