A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The right to go to the bathroom - at least, at last

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 2, 3 or 4

Last week, Texas became one of 12 states suing the federal government over President Obama’s order to schools to permit transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender they identify with. That adds to the anti-transgender craze that might be titled “Transgenders: Threat or Menace?”

Despite the action by Texas (plus Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin), last week also showed Illinois lawmakers having some empathy for transgender people, as a Senate committee May 24 passed a resolution to discourage official travel to states with bans on where transgenders go to the bathroom.

Empathy is missing in this new wedge issue. Empathy is when people share others’ situations and feelings, to “sense the hurt or the pleasure of another,” as psychologist Carl Rogers said. As Illinois’ journalist/poet/historian Carl Sandburg wrote, “In the midst of the contending currents of democracy, we must be wise to the other fellow.”

Having empathy for transgender citizens would consider their lives and experiences, would make connections and accommodations. Trying to understand what they’re going through is more constructive than refusing to comprehend others’ needs and segregating a few to face arrest or embarrassment for a basic bodily function.

This “toilet in a teapot” comes from ignorance, fear and hate, and it found fertile ground in North Carolina, which passed a preemption law forbidding many local ordinances, including provisions that someone may go to restrooms associated with their identities, not birth certificates. North Carolina and the Justice Department are suing each other over the bans, which leads to indignity, even violence, against transgenders.

Meanwhile, “there are 11 anti-transgender bills within six different state legislatures,” said Angelica Ross, a transgender activist writing in The Guardian. And “our existence is not up for debate.”

Indeed, it’s a legitimate condition, according to the American Psychological Association, which calls it TGNC (transgender and gender nonconforming) for people “who have a gender identity that is not fully aligned with their sex assigned at birth.” It’s not a quirk or trick, a choice or delusion, but a natural, non-threatening internal phenomenon. Though science is ignored by resentful, fearful or biased minds, other research shows background and consequences:
* Such segregation harms “non-conforming” people – and 70 percent of transgender folks report being harassed, denied access or assaulted (Journal of Public Management & Social Policy).
* Transgenders are routinely denied access to bathrooms and housing at colleges, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (Georgia State University).
* Similar laws historically discriminated by class and race (Journal of Planning Literature); Daniella Schmidt of the University of Michigan Law School wrote that such restrictions are about exclusion and power.
* 300,000 transgenders would be hurt by such legislation (UCLA).

Bans assume that transgenders are unstable or criminal. Why not assume some “Game of Thrones” mutilation substituting victims’ genitalia? Would the wounded become the disfigured gender, or want to be who he or she feels like? That’s a transgender’s crisis.

But pinched minds narrow. Despite lofty claims, the bans aren’t about assaults, exhibitionism or privilege. They’re trying to legalize discrimination. What’s next? Restoring prohibitions on interracial marriage? Limits on education for developmentally disabled children?

“The real targets are vulnerable young people and adults who simply seek to live their lives free from discrimination when they go to school, work or the restroom,” said Rebecca Robertson with the ACLU of Texas.

In a bitterly ironic statement, the Harrold (Texas) school district sees ignoring the federal order as “necessary to protect the safety, dignity and security of the children,” obviously neglecting transgender kids.

And “safety”? “The number of trans homicide victims in 2015 was higher than any other years on record,” Ross said. This Fear Frenzy also has contributed to attacks on women who assailants thought were men dressed as women. A Connecticut Walmart customer attacked a woman mistaken for a transgender. And after a Washington, D.C., food store guard assaulted a transgender woman, the company (Giant) issued an apology saying, “We view the choice of restroom as a personal matter.”

Michael Ziri of Equality Illinois said ban-backers’ concerns are misguided.

“In all the states that have transgender-inclusive, non-discrimination protections, there has never been one documented case of a transgender person – or someone else acting like a transgender person – committing sexual assault in a bathroom,” he said.

The bathroom vigilantes’ issue is really another “culture war” skirmish about change – like women voting, rights for minorities or unions, even integration of the military.

So: Imagine a family member as transgender. Wouldn’t you want basic dignity ensured? Shouldn’t social guarantees cover the vulnerable?

Transgender family, neighbors, co-workers and others are more open, and Americans increasingly accept transgenders, who seek respect, not hostility. They should have respect. And access.

[Graphic from]

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