14 May 2014

On the Issue of Access to Restrooms by Trans Students

I read this morning on the Courier-Journal website that apparently, there's some flap over allowing a 16 year old trans student access to restrooms and the locker room at Atherton High School. Principal Thomas Aberil has created an online survey, seeking input from students, parents, school staff, and members of the community. Because this is an issue that has become increasingly important to me as my own understanding of the trans community has grown in the last couple of years, and because it's not one that I've really addressed in this blog so far, I present in its entirety my response:
I graduated in 1997. At that time, even what has become the mainstream LGBTQ community was marginalized. Since that time, especially through social media such as Twitter (yes, Twitter, where far more substantive discourse takes place than non-users believe), I have learned far more about the issues faced by members of the trans community than I ever would have understood living in the Louisville metro area or through my education - including, I regret to say, the University of Louisville, where I earned my B.A. in history.

The concern over female student safety is certainly legitimate. The notion that a trans student sharing a restroom and/or locker room with cis-gender female students is a threat to their safety, however, is decidedly illegitimate.

The Courier-Journal quoted Clint Elliott as saying:

"Imagine this scenario — a transgender student, a biological boy who decides that he wants to identify with the female gender, and yet he acknowledges that he has a girlfriend and is sexually attracted to girls," Elliott said. "Are parents supposed to be OK with allowing such boys to use the girls' restroom and locker room facilities?"

The ignorance displayed here is appalling in the abstract, much less on the more important issue of affecting a real person's life.

It may shock Mr. Elliott and those he represents to learn, but there are already cis-gender female students who have girlfriends and are sexually attracted to girls sharing those same restrooms and locker rooms that he seeks to deny the young trans student in question. I'm sure he's in denial about this, just as I suspect he chose to be oblivious to having shared a restroom and locker room as a student himself with male students who were sexually attracted to boys.

The issue then shifts to whether this trans student might be some kind of sexual predator. Mr. Elliott would do well to learn about the issues facing the trans community. Statistically, they are the most at-risk group in any community - yes, even in Louisville - for being sexually assaulted and abused. The notion of trans students having access to restrooms and locker rooms as some kind of "loophole" for predators is more revealing about how Mr. Elliott views males than it illustrates any understanding of the trans community.

Consider that the student's girlfriend remained involved with her even after coming out as trans. The relevance of that cannot be overstated. Even as adults like Mr. Elliott are distraught at the notion of this trans student urinating in a stall adjacent to a cis-gender female student, her own girlfriend has seen so much in her that their romantic relationship has continued. Additionally, the Courier-Journal article quoted a friend of this young student, as well as the friend's mother, in support of her.

If we're to leave this matter to one of passing judgment on the student's character - which itself is a dubious and asinine approach to such an issue - then surely we should defer to the respect and trust that the student has earned, rather than surrender to the ignorance of those in our community who know only that they fear what they can't be bothered to understand.

Time and again, the reaction from fearful people has been to try to segregate and contain those whose differences trouble them. The reason it doesn't work is that people still exist whether they're recognized or not. This student exists whether Mr. Elliott understands her needs or not, and she exists outside of school, too. Even if the school capitulates to the hysterics of Mr. Elliott and those he represents, she will not be the last LGBTQ student to walk the halls of Atherton High School, to go shopping at Mall St. Matthews, to attend a Cardinals game at the Yum! Center, to see a midnight movie at Baxter Avenue Theatres, to attend a concert at the Louisville Palace, to try to catch a foul ball at Slugger Field, or go anywhere else in our community where there are (gasp!) restrooms.

I respectfully and strongly urge the site based council to support this young student, and those like her present and yet to come. Expanding the scope of in-class curricula to educate students - who will one day succeed Mr. Elliott in the Louisville Metro area - about the trans community will help mitigate these nuisance outbursts in the future.

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