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The Trump administration has rescinded the Obama administration guidance that transgender students are federally protected from sex discrimination under Title IX and will no longer require schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.

never-about-bathroomsBut it isn’t really about bathrooms. It wasn’t about bathrooms in the past and it isn’t about them now. The issue has always been about who has access to the public sphere.

When someone has to worry about being able to relieve themself when out in public, it discourage them from participating fully in activities outside the home. Historically, public bathrooms were a weapon for in the battle for social control.

For generations of working women, a barrier to employment was that few, if any, workplaces had bathrooms they could use. In 1887, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a law requiring workplaces that employed women to have bathrooms for them. It took a while for guaranteed access to become the norm but by the 1920’s most states had passed similar laws. A scholarly article with a number of examples is Taunya Lovell Banks’ “Toilets as a Feminist Issue.”

In the 1940’s and 50’s, segregationists pulled out the bathroom card when fighting to preserve Jim Crow laws. Many African-American travelers found few places to relieve themselves along the interstates across the country as Whites Only signs blocked access to restrooms in gas stations, bus stations, etc. Political opponents of Brown vs Board of Education were very vociferous that interracial school bathrooms were a threat to the very fabric of society. For more information on this time period, read Phoebe Godfrey‘s “Bayonets, Brainwashing, and Bathrooms: The Discourse of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High.”

In the 1960’s, gays were the new bathroom threat. For example, the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee issued a report, Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, which warned of the menace of gay men in restroom stalls who “posed a threat to the health and moral well-being of a sizable portion of our population, particularly our youth.” I guess lesbians, being invisible, were able to do their business with no fuss.

During her fight throughout the 1970’s against the Equal Rights Amendment, Phyllis Schlafly described three “Horribles” that the ERA would impose on women, one of which was it would bring about public unisex bathrooms (As an aside, Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote a great rebuttal in the ABA Journal in September 1973). But, it wasn’t only public safety that was a concern of the opponents of the ERA – they claimed national security would be affected and argued that military cohesion would fall apart if men and women had to share facilities. The Red Scare had nothing on their potty fears and while the ERA didn’t pass, we have advanced women’s rights despite their fear mongering.

The fight against Houston’s HERO and Charlotte’s Ordinance 7056 took things to a new low. The religious extremists reframed anti-discrimination ordinances and twisted them to make the issue no longer about equality but about permitting sexual predators to molest children in women’s bathrooms. North Carolina’s backwards looking legislators responded with the ugly HB2 which in turn caused such a furor among equality minded people that the NBA even pulled the All Star game out of the state and moved it to Louisiana, which had the recently elected governor signed an anti-discrimination Executive Order.

Such a sad, sorry history of bathrooms, isn’t it? It is amazing that such a humble room has been ground zero for those opposed to the advancement civil rights.

Today’s anti’s aren’t any more concerned about women and children being attacked in restrooms than their forefathers.

We know this because then they would have responded with the same fervor when information came out that then presidential candidate Donald Trump would go into the dressing rooms of Miss Teen USA, Miss USA and Miss Universe to “inspect” the participants (Rolling Stone did a timeline on his creepiness). He boasted about it in a 2005 interview with Howard Stern.

Well, I’ll tell you the funniest is that before a show, I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else. [Y]ou know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it. You know, I’m inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good.

The facts are clear: Sexual predators don’t wait to dress up like a woman to go into bathrooms.

Women and children are not in danger from transgender people in bathrooms. Don’t get me wrong – women and children do risk sexual assault in all sorts of places (in our homes, on our streets, etc). However, lawmakers and law enforcement have not been able to show any incidents of transgender violence against women or children in public restrooms despite more than 200 municipalities and 18 states having nondiscrimination laws. As per the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women: “None of those jurisdictions have seen a rise in sexual violence or other public safety issues due to nondiscrimination laws. Assaulting another person in a restroom or changing room remains against the law in every single state.”

Do you know who is in danger in public restrooms? A 2013 survey by the Williams Institute found that 70% of trans people reported experiencing denial of access, verbal harassment or physical assault in an attempt to use the bathroom.

By rescinding the guidance baring schools from discriminating against transgender students, the Trump administration sends a message that harassing or bullying someone about using the bathroom is okay.

Is that the message we want to send to our children? Is that the message we want to send to our trans brothers and sisters?

How about instead, we show we value them?

By taking measures to protect transgender students, we can ensure that they have the same opportunity as their classmates to fully participate in school. By passing anti-discrimination measures which include gender identity and expression we will make sure that transgender people will be treated fairly and equally under the law.

And allow them to finally be able to pee in peace.

 

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