The religious right is obsessed with public restrooms. All the rest of us go into them, do our business, and leave, giving little thought to any of the strangers we may briefly share that physical space with. Look at this testimony (from a couple of years ago) by Concerned Women for America of Georgia member Tanya Ditty before a Georgia House of Representatives legislative committee:
You’ll note Ms. Ditty doesn’t allege any harm came to her in the restroom incident she mentions; the mere fact that someone she found so strange was in the restroom at the same time she was is presented as prima facie evidence that the bill she’s arguing against would be a Bad Thing.
Incidentally, that bill didn’t pass during that legislative session, and as an employee of the state government I have no public position on its merits.
Ms. Ditty was presenting what’s called “bathroom panic.” When we’re in restrooms, taking care of essential but unpleasant business, we’re usually in our most private and vulnerable frame of mind. Transphobes have keyed on that fact, and playing it up is the sharpest arrow in their quiver in the fight against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In their view of the world, male sexual predators are lurking in the bushes near all public women’s restrooms, wig and lipstick in hand, just waiting for the laws to change, so that then—and only then!—they can dress up in drag, claim to be transwomen, and burst into the restrooms to begin raping with impunity. The very idea is ludicrous on its face.
This year in California the law called AB 1266 was passed; when it goes into effect on January 1, 2014, it will allow transgender children to safely be themselves in the restrooms and locker rooms of public schools. In response, the religious right has welded bathroom panic to its more classic “think of the children!” handwringing, and is working hard to overturn it.
In the vanguard of this effort are the National Organization for Marriage (NOM (not “om nom nom”)), perhaps choosing a new issue upon realizing that marriage inequality is a war it’s losing, and the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI). The two groups have teamed up to form Privacy for All Students, a single-issue lobbying group that seeks to overturn AB 1266.
In the furtherance of this end, in October PJI released a story that a transgender “boy” (as they called her) at Florence High School in Colorado was harassing girls in the restrooms. The state of Colorado has policies in place similar to the ones that California’s AB 1266 will enforce next year.
Many mainstream news outlets repeated this claim uncritically; apparently checking facts isn’t something journalists do anymore. Blogger Cristan Williams at Transadvocate picked up the baton, and quickly and rather easily debunked the story. It’s just a lie. There has been no “harassment” of cisgender girls at that school, and the school’s administration has stood by its policy despite PJI’s false reportage and urging to change its policies.
You see this pattern whenever transgender students or teachers appear in a supportive, affirming school environment. After the initial sensation, it almost immediately becomes no big deal for the students or other faculty involved. Narrow-minded parents and community members are the only ones who lose it.
The problem, for them, is that when transpeople are allowed to use restrooms just like everyone else, nothing bad ever happens to cisgender people. Harm is alleged, but never demonstrated.
There is danger in restrooms, but it’s for transgender people, not cisgender people, as Chrissy L. Polis learned in Baltimore in 2011 (be warned: there’s shocking violence in this video):
Apologies for the somewhat racist presentation of the video by that channel; it’s the only share of it I could find that was complete and didn’t have local TV news anchors wrapped around it.
That incident didn’t take place in a school, and the victim wasn’t a child. Here’s what happens in schools. That’s the report of a 2011 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. I’ll quote some of the bullet points:
- 63.9% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.1% reported being physically harassed and 12.4% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
- Transgender students experienced more hostile school climates than their non-transgender peers – 80% of transgender students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression.
- Nearly one third of LGBT students (29.8%) reported skipping a class at least once and 31.8% missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.
- Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students—outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.
I take from that last datum that the negative effects of being out are due mainly to the novelty of out students and official disapproval of it. These will disappear over time, the more nurturing school environments become and the more kids feel safe in coming out.
The worst PJI and its fellow travelers have claimed has happened to cisgender children when they share restrooms with their transgender classmates is that they’ve felt “uncomfortable.” Even if this is true (and PJI’s “victims” are anonymous), in a world where gender nonconforming kids get murdered in the classroom, I have no sympathy for their discomfort. Transgender and other LGB students have a right to feel safe and respected.