"Who Cares?": The Transgender Bathroom Issue
TED EYTAN VIA NEWSWEEK
On Thursday, July 21st, 2016, Paypal co-founder and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel took to the stage of the Republican National Convention, delivering an emphatic speech aimed at praising the virtues of now-President Donald Trump. The uniqueness of Thiel’s presence came by means of the fact that he is an openly gay man, a rarity at the famously right-minded convention. Even more interesting was his endorsement of Trump, a point he justifies in depth throughout his speech, something that caused the liberal portions of the LGBT community to write him off as a traitor. However, the point in bringing forth this speech is not to contrast Thiel against the stereotypes of the gay community, but to reiterate a certain phrase that Thiel brings to the podium. When speaking about the efficiency of decision-making and Congressional progress, Thiel laments the fact that the “great debate” is currently the “who gets to use which bathroom,” to which Thiel asks “Who cares?” The blunt question was met with thunderous applause from the audience, obviously sharing in Thiel’s exasperation over the conflict of the recent transgender bathroom laws. However, almost nine months later, the “great debate” has not slowed in its tracks.
With a new Texas-penned “bathroom bill” sliding its way through Congress just a few months ago the debate has not only crescendoed, but gained a fervent chorus of new voices. The bill mimics a North Carolina legislation passed last year which requires people to use the bathroom that matches the sex referenced on their birth certificates, regardless of gender identity. The ease at which the bill has climbed through the early rounds in the House of Representatives comes on the eve of President Trump’s rescinding of laws protecting transgender students, a controversial decision arising just last month. Essentially, to answer Thiel’s question, now an ironic foreshadowing of recent events, it has become apparent that quite a lot of people care about who gets to use which bathroom, especially those in Congress. The question, to state it more effectively, is why we care. A recent study conducted by the Williams Institute predicts that there are approximately 1.4 million transgender people in the United States, 0.6 percent of the total population and twice the measurement as previously estimated. Of these 1.4 million people, professional organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign and the Transgender Law Center state that there have been zero reported instances of sexual harassment and assault committed by transgender individuals in their preferred restroom. This statistic is ever the more relevant due to the fact that sexual assault, especially against children, has been one of the cornerstones of conservative justification behind the bathroom discrimination laws. House speaker Tim Moore commented on this issue, stating that “obviously” when biological males are allowed to use the women’s restroom, there is the risk of sexual predators, though he did not offer any evidence to support his claim. In addition, Gary McCaleb, senior counsel of the conservative forum Alliance Defending Freedom states "No longer will federal officials distort federal law that is meant to equalize educational opportunities for women, and no longer will they force local officials to intermingle boys and girls within private areas like locker rooms, showers, hotel rooms on school trips, and restrooms." While McCaleb can be accused of ignorance, specifically regarding the blatant misgendering of the aforementioned students, his statement brings forth an repeated rhetoric from the conservative camp; the transition of bathroom law decisions from the federal to the state level. As the supervision of state education is entrusted to the states themselves, many supporters of the bathroom bills, at least where schools are concerned, are calling for the debate to be seized from federal hands. While this does not change the decisions made about bathrooms in public places, “privacy” concerned representatives now have hopes to sow the seeds of discrimination within their respective states.
It is not completely unfounded why the question “Who cares?” about transgender bathroom laws would seem valid to the majority of people. Even to the most dedicated trans-activist, it is apparent that there are more important, not to mention dire, issues that should be being discussed in Congress. The minds of many Americans, whether liberal or conservative, can see the reasoning behind Thiel’s dismissive commentating on what he seemed to consider a flippant civil rights issue. As previously mentioned, the transgender demographic only claims 0.6 percent of the entire population, making it understandable why many people would not relate to the issue, robbing it of its credibility. Even after coming out, many transgender people avoid openly sharing their identities and experiences with strangers, many avoiding public restrooms altogether. While this trend certainly does not speak for the entire demographic, it makes it that much harder for Americans to associate the term transgender with the “regular” citizen, instead leaving that to a media that sensationalizes transgenderism rather than normalizing it. As a consequence, many voters are prone to believe the false accounts of transgender assault and wrongdoing, creating an evil where there is only bigotry and a stubborn clinging to Old Guard ideals.
To put it plainly, the problem with transgender bathroom laws, as well as any other discriminatory legislation, is that it allows the government, whether federally or on the state level, to tell people who they are as a person. Actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox likely states it best, deeming that “When trans people can’t access public bathrooms we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities — it’s about us existing in public space,” she said. “...It’s really about us not existing — about erasing trans people.” Though bathrooms may seem like a trivial area of concern for most people, it is because of this that the injustice is so apparent; if discrimination is allowed to take place at as basic of a level as going to the bathroom, there is obviously a deep-rooted flaw in our national philosophy. To answer to the supporters of the bills who claim to be concerned for the children, I validate that their worry is worthy, yet misplaced. Yes, there are children being hurt by the decisions being made about the right for transgender people to use the correct bathroom. These children are Kedarie/Kandicee, 16, a genderfluid individual shot several times in an alley in Burlington, Iowa, last year. These children are Leelah Alcorn, 17, a transgender girl who walked onto a freeway in New Jersey in 2014 after leaving behind the message to “Fix society, please” to her family and friends. These children are the increasing percentages of homicide rates of transgender people, including the 17 already murdered in 2017. These children are the 41 percent of the transgender population that has reported a suicide attempt, compared with the 4.6 percent rate of the entire United States population. Essentially, to ask “Who cares?” is to call upon the leagues of individuals already scared by the impact of transgender discrimination.
Bigotry at any level, even when it seems to be distracting for more “important issues,” is an extremely dangerous thing to leave unchecked. If conservative protectionists want to use hypotheticals to support their legislation, they should have the foresight to see what kind of impact the allowance of discrimination may have in years to come. At the very least, the accounts of those assaulted, harassed, and murdered by those upholding the same narrow mindset should be taken into account while discussing this legislation. As Cox stated, this is not an issue about the right to use a certain toilet, it’s about the recognition of a group of Americans that aren’t willing to not care about their rights.