The Bathroom Debate

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Art credits to Karen Fung!

Art credits to Karen Fung!

Art credits to Karen Fung!

Claire Ho ‘20

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On February 22, 2017, President Trump rolled back protections for transgender students that had previously allowed them use to bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities. These protections were initially implemented under the Obama administration.

Long a point of contention, the rescinding of protections for transgender people provides a glimpse into the divisiveness of the so-called “bathroom debate,” which extends all the way to the White House. Even within the current presidential administration, the “bathroom debate” has generated a tangible rift.

Notably, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has opposed the possible expansion of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights, has clashed with Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, over the issue. DeVos expressed her distaste towards the protection rollback by claiming to prioritize the “moral” obligation of the White House to prevent bullying, discrimination, and harassment in the education system. However, she agrees that bathroom access is not a matter to be discussed nor presided over at the presidential level. Ms. DeVos’ opposition eventually led to a personal conversation with President Trump, which ultimately resulted in her ceding to his stance.

The recent rollback of protections is reflective of what is happening at the state and local levels. The National Conference of State Legislatures, or NCSL, lists 14 states — Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming — that introduced legislation to restrict transgender students from using facilities that correspond with their gender identities, as opposed to their assigned sexes, during the 2017 legislative session.

Collectively, this all links back to the guidance the Obama administration issued last May regarding the interpretation of Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in the educational field. Rescinding the protections of transgender students on the part of the Trump administration constitutes also rejecting the Obama Administration’s counsel, which states that in order to effectively follow Title IX, each and every school district and high school athletic association must treat transgender students the same as they treat any other student. Now, each state and district can set its own transgender student policy, which may or may not allow the use of identity-correspondent bathrooms.

This could possibly have damaging effects on transgender students, who are already significantly more vulnerable to violence, bullying, harassment, and suicide. Transgender people are also at an increased risk of developing depression and self-harm tendencies. As NPR notes, policies such as the one Trump instituted affects the mental and physical health, safety, and well-being of transgender students.

Critics of the protections for the transgender community mainly argue that allowing people to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities would allow predators to enter restrooms of the opposite gender. However, as Katy Steinmetz of Time Magazine points out, transgender protection laws have not fomented an increase in cases of malicious men dressing as women to enter female facilities. Steinmetz also notes that Media Matters, a watchdog organization of liberal media, found that school and state officials did not witness any growth in number of sexual assault or rape cases after these laws afforded protections to transgender students.

In light of the recent events, Angela Huang ’20 explains that “Even with a very neutral standpoint in regards to the LGBTQ community, I believe it is important to see each individual equally without any preconceived notion, and to see them as a human with rights and emotions. There is a thin line where these rules and regulations, or removal of such, may affect one party or another, and walking that line is going to be difficult, yet it is of utmost importance that the line should be traveled on very carefully.”

In a slightly more passionate response, Alex Chen ’18, comments that “I think it is outrageous that our president would jeopardize the safety of approximately 150,000 students,” referencing the number of transgender students in America’s schools.

As both advocates and critics of the protections on transgender individuals look toward the uncertain future, one thing is clear: no matter what develops in the “bathroom debate,” it can and may only be resolved with time.

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