There is a political debate going on in this country right now that is very important even though it will personally effect very few of us.
The rights of transgender people jumped into the national spotlight when the state of North Carolina passed a law that bars people in North Carolina from using bathrooms that do not match their birth gender and goes further to prohibit municipalities from creating their own antidiscrimination policies. The North Carolina state government passed this law in reaction to a law passed in Charlotte in February that legalized the ability of transgender people to choose public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
The medical dictionary defines “transgender” as “a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth.”
The term became much more prominent when former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner revealed his nearly lifelong feeling of being a woman. His transformation to Caitlin made national headlines and dominated the news cycle.
It is hard for most people to relate to these feelings but they are very real to the people involved. Ignoring them has led many to deep depression and even suicide.
In New Jersey there have been different decisions in school districts. The New Jersey Department of Education has stated that anti-transgender discrimination is banned under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex-based discrimination in public education. Under the guidance, transgender students should be able to use the restrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity. A number of schools have conformed to that declaration and worked out solutions that run very smoothly.
But one district did not, informing a student who identifies as a girl that she must come back to school prepared to dress like and act like a boy as well as use the name on her birth certificate. No accommodations would be made for her gender identity. Even letting the student use the bathroom in the nurse’s office was rejected by the school.
The parents of the student discussed sending the girl to a private school as an ideal solution, but the school district was not willing to support any of the tuition costs.
New Jersey’s laws protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but the specific issue of school accommodation is a relatively new challenge nationally. Other states have successfully implemented transgender accommodations for young students, despite objections from disapproving parents in the district. New York City schools have instituted guidelines for ensuring their facilities are welcoming and inclusive of transgender students. The Maine Supreme Court ruled that transgender students deserve accommodations in schools and Colorado’s Civil Rights Division similarly ruled in favor a trans student last year. California has been a flashpoint on the issue because of a new law guaranteeing transgender students’ rights, but many California schools have been protecting trans students for years without any problems.
The North Carolina law has had significant repercussions and the governor is reportedly considering changes. Since the law was put into place last month many companies have voiced opposition. Deutsche Bank has pulled an office and 150 jobs away from the state, PayPal cancelled plans to build a super-center in the state (a project that would have invested close to $4 million and employed more than 400 people) and the NBA is debating whether or not to move the 2017 All-Star game away from Charlotte. Film producer Michael Moore has asked that his films not be played in the state and the large film studio, Lionsgate, has said that plans to film in the state are being canceled as a result of this law.
There is also The Boss.
Bruce Springsteen canceled a Greensboro concert in protest, saying “To my mind, it's an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show.”
The answer to the bathroom situation seems rather simple – a school, airport or other public building should assign one rest room as “gender neutral”. Ideally it would be an individual bathroom where the user locks the door. The school nurses’ office is a perfect example.
But we all need to realize that transgender people are people and we need to give them all of the respect, courtesy and understanding that we wish for ourselves.
Words of Wisdom: “I think what you're seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they've got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out.” (Barack Obama)
People we meet: Steve works at One Stop Car Audio in Northfield. He is easy to talk to and gives you the accurate facts about your job. Together with the rest of his staff he makes sure everybody is satisfied.
(This At Large column, along with previous editions, can be found online at columns.shorenewstoday.com where you can post comments. Direct reactions or questions about this column can be sent via email to Tom.Williams@catamaranmedia.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @catamarantw.)