Obama issues ordinance to combat discriminatory bathroom laws
President Barack Obama issued an ordinance on May 13, demanding that public schools allow transgender students access to the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Any states that do not comply are at risk of losing federal funding.
This followed weeks of controversy surrounding North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which states that individuals are only allowed to use bathrooms in legislative buildings that match the sex on their birth certificates.
The North Carolina bill, which narrowly defines sex as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate,” is one of the most anti-LGBT laws in the United States. Under it, transgender individuals are not considered the gender they identify as and are disallowed from using the bathroom of their choosing.
The Editorial Board stands with the Obama administration on setting the precedent to ensure students feel comfortable using the restroom. Although it might seem a ridiculous precedent to have to set in the first place, some social conservatives — such as North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory — claim, with unsubstantiated evidence, that the concept of bathroom access runs into issues involving security and the “expectation of privacy.”
“There’s an expectation that the only other people [in the restroom] will be the same gender as they are and that’s the way we’ve been doing things for a long time,” McCrory said in an interview with NPR. “[Transgender students are offered] alternative choices for this very complex situation in which there’s not a clear definition for gender identity or gender expression.”
For a cisgender, white male like McCrory, who likely has never thought twice about the repercussions of entering the men’s restroom, this statement might be a relatively easy one to make.
The assumption that men use the men’s restroom and women use the women’s restroom is not discredited by allowing trans* people access to their prefered bathroom. The problem lies in defining what it means to be a “man” and a “woman.”
According to McCrory and those in support of the bathroom bill, simply identifying as a gender does not mean a person is that gender. This, perhaps, is the most derisive part of the bill, for it invalidates the gender identity of all individuals who have not undergone transitive surgery or officially changed the sex on their birth certificate.
The bill makes it so that only cisgender individuals are allowed to enjoy the bathroom of their choosing and feel safe while doing so. These are just two out of countless privileges that many people take for granted and intuitively deem a non-issue. The same can not be said for many transgender people.
The statistics speak for themselves. A 2013 Williams Institute report revealed that “roughly 70 percent of trans* people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted or harassed while trying to use a restroom.” Whose privacy and security, then, is truly at stake?
The issue of bathroom access is not a new concept. The discussion flared up most notably in late 2015, when 16-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm was denied entrance to his preferred bathroom at a high school in Virginia.
In response to this incident, the Department of Justice reinstated Title IX to include the protection of students’ right to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. Although the situation ended on a positive note, the fight for bathroom access in public schools is still nowhere near won. With the passage of North Carolina’s bathroom bill, we have taken steps backward.
Obama’s decree is now set in motion, and the most important step in moving forward will be educating public school students on the topics of bathroom access and gender identity. Obama spoke on the issue Monday, noting that hateful laws such as North Carolina’s bill increase incidents of bullying. To ensure that violence does not continue for transgender students, public schools must administer extensive awareness training. This does not mean the same sort of casual, incompetent discipline that many sex-ed programs teach in middle and high schools.
Teachers and administrators should put special, detailed educational programs in place to prevent bathroom violence during early years of schooling, so that students can bring an open-minded attitude to higher education.
With the conversion of all single-stall restrooms to gender-neutral ones already underway on University of California campuses, The Editorial Board hopes that large institutions, such as UC Davis, continue to foster a receptive attitude towards the forward-thinking policies Obama would like to implement. Only then can we ensure that all students, whether transgender, cisgender or otherwise, can focus on receiving the education they deserve.