Earlier this year, when Michigan Republican legislators discovered that the Michigan Board of Education had drafted voluntary guidelines that included recommended policies and procedures for allowing transgender K-12 students to use the bathroom that matches their self-identified gender and for educators to refer to students by their preferred names and pronouns, a legislative block was swiftly proposed. Michigan Republican Senator Tom Casperson went public with plans to introduce legislation that would block our transgender and gender nonconforming kids from any right to pee in peace. Sen. Casperson declared his intention to pass the discrimination into law despite the entire nation witnessing North Carolina attempting the same drastic and reactionary measures, only to have its federal funding threatened, its economic prosperity hindered via loss of major business investments, and the state itself being sued by the United States Department of Justice for violating civil rights law. Michigan House Republicans added to their list of threats and punishments when House Republicans pushed to strip reimbursement funding for the Michigan State Board of Education’s travel expenses.
I mention peeing specifically because that is what we are talking about here. Like any other kid, trans kids need to use the bathroom and should be able to do so safely and as their most authentic selves. Neither the fear of those unfamiliar to us nor our trans kids’ need for safety should force trans people into a situation that marks them as “separate but equal” through any forced use of single stall gender neutral bathrooms. Gender-neutral bathrooms are, of course, always to be encouraged as either one of many choices or as the rule – but they should not be the only option offered to students who clearly identify as a specific gender. That would only separate them further from their peers. There exists no danger in allowing kids to use the bathroom they know fits them. Data shows that it is trans people, and in this case trans children, who are in the most danger in a public restroom, with the most assaults taking place when they are forced to use a bathroom that corresponds with a gender they do not self-identify with. The media watchdog group Media Matters, in response to media coverage and perpetuation of farright fear mongering, researched seventeen school districts across the country covering 600,000 students that already adopted and implemented gender identity protections and found that the schools had experienced zero problems as a result of their proactive measures to provide equal access to facilities for all students. Zero. We are all looking to ensure the safety of our kids.
And the LGBTQ community isn’t avoiding the subject of sexual assault that is being tossed at us as an accusation, but we are calling it what it is in this case – a red herring. We all want to be safe in the bathroom that corresponds with the gender we identify with, and our laws will not protect and will continue to punish those who seek to harm us, any of us; LGBTQ, straight, or cisgender (not transgender). We should all have access to the spaces where we are safest just as we should all be protected in general from violence of every kind. Trans people are not predators; trans people are just people, like any other. Predators are predators and we are all on the same side when it comes to protecting ourselves and our kids from predators.
Since the start of this very public, and once again embarrassingly backward, fight in Michigan, we have seen some striking moves forward nationally from the Obama Administration. United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch made comments and took a national position when she stepped forward to announce the suit against North Carolina alleging violations of the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Her sentiments are already cemented in our history books as the way to do advocacy and allyship. She stood with trans people and vowed to see and to not leave them behind. She stated, among other things,”This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them—indeed, to protect all of us. And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country—haltingly but inexorably—in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.” The Administration then announced Friday, May 13, national directives that state our public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room of their self-identified gender.
Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin said that in addition to the policy being necessary to support all of our children and create a healthy learning environment it was also drafted in an effort to ensure that Michigan schools were given guidance on how to avoid violating federal civil rights law. Now that the Obama Administration has released clear directives we should expect that any law restricting equal access to public facilities or any school;s failure to make a clear commitment to providing equal access would further put the State of Michigan and our public schools in danger of violating federal civil rights standards.
On May 25th of this year Sen. Casperson introduced his dangerous legislation, Senate Bill 993, which we now know, more clearly than ever, would be a violation of federal civil rights laws and directives. On June 2, State Representative Jim Runestad followed suit with the introduction of the House version, House Bill 5717. This is Michigan and the attack is against an easy mark - LGBTQ people - and is based on a society’s most visceral and irrational fears. Fears of those who are less familiar. As long as those fears exist, and they will until we all know, stand with, and allow ourselves to love trans people, we will continue to see bills introduced to further harm the most vulnerable even as we build the awareness of how desperately we must all act to stop the already overwhelming hurt.