by Danny McCarthy
Photography Courtesy of Getty Images
On Wednesday night, the Trump administration withdrew an Obama-era policy that advised schools receiving federal funding to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The measure was a joint effort by the Departments of Justice and Education, the heads of which are Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary Betsy DeVos, respectively. According to insider Republicans, DeVos was against rescinding Obama’s protections but eventually bowed to the combined pressure of President Trump and Attorney General Sessions.
President Obama made his guidance based on his interpretation of Title IX, which bans discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. In Trump’s letter to federally-funded public schools, there was no new guidance on how to handle the issue but simply stated that there was not “extensive legal analysis” on Obama’s interpretation of Title IX and retracted the advisement.
In a statement, the White House said that the issue should be left at the state-level for decisions. The letter comes weeks before the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student from Virginia who was denied access to the boys’ bathroom in his high school and had to use the bathroom in a converted janitor’s closet, would reach the Supreme Court.
As a senator, Jeff Sessions had a record of voting against the expansion of LGBTQ rights. In 2000 and 2002, Sessions voted against including sexual orientation in the definition of hate crimes. In 2006, he voted yes on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. DeVos, according to several sources, was privately pro-LGBTQ rights but has not publicly voiced support to avoid going against her family, who have contributed financially to several anti-gay groups.
I had actually written an article for my website about the possibility of Trump rescinding federal protection of transgender students a few hours before the official word came. I looked at the voting records of Sessions and Pence in their political careers. I looked at the promises Trump made during the campaign, saying that he was the LGBTQ community’s best option.
I looked at the effects bathroom bans have on transgender students. According to data, LGBTQ youths are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide, and 92 percent have attempted it before the age of 25. According to a survey, when transgender youths are denied access to basics like bathrooms and housing, suicide attempts spike. Out of over 1000 youths surveyed for a particular study, a third had been denied access to bathrooms—60.5 percent of those denied access have attempted suicide.
Bathroom bills are purportedly for the safety of cisgender (that is, non-transgender) students—though there are no reported instances of any transgender person assaulting a cisgender person in the bathroom. However, over 70 percent of transgender people have experienced being barred from using a bathroom, getting verbally assaulted or physically assaulted. Transgender students who are denied access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities have reported health issues such as kidney infections, dehydration and urinary tract infections—because they are literally unable to pee. Those health issues can lead to missed classes and days of school.
Villainizing queer people is nothing new. Gay men were classified as pedophiles, and homosexuality was only declassified as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. Prior to 2003, same-sex sexual activity illegal in 14 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the military.
Rescinding the protection of transgender students goes beyond name-calling or petty villainizing. It condemns them to health problems, physical assault, verbal assault and suicide. It often condemns them to death.
There aren’t many ways I’m able to process this. I can use facts and statistics to paint a picture of why this is wrong. I can look into the voting records of Sessions and Pence and the ilk. I can point to those things and say, “Do you see? Can’t you see?” But this reaches a place deeper down in me, someplace raw and unhealed.
There are no words that encompass the illness roiling around inside me. The abject cruelty. The first time I was called “faggot.” The red heat in my cheeks as I was harassed in my high school locker room. The shoves. The cruel, fondling hands. There are no words to describe being treated as subhuman. Because that’s what it comes down to: they don’t see queer people as human. You can’t rationalize it as any other way.
It’s mean. I guess that’s the simplest way I can break it down. The most juvenile, childish word, but the one that makes the most sense. It’s mean. It’s mean because it makes no sense; it comes from no logic, no wisdom, no statistics, no facts. Because if you look at any of those, you would realize that transgender students are amongst the most vulnerable minorities in America. At every turn, they are scorned, harassed and maligned. They are treated as subhuman. We should be offering our protection to them, not protecting against them.
It’s mean because Jeff Sessions doesn’t actually care about protecting cisgender students. He knows that transgender teens pose no threat when they’re just trying to use the bathroom. But Jeff Sessions wants to curtail the expansion of LGBTQ rights. That’s the logic I can find—in his voting records. In the way he views us. It’s mean because Trump, no matter what he said on the campaign trail, is as bad as Sessions in his ambivalence. And ambivalence is as deadly as hate because it’s still the same victim mangled in the maws of government. It’s still that teen. That teen is who asking nothing more than the barest, most threadbare human dignity.
“These bills are not about bathrooms,” said transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox on her recent CBS This Morning appearance. “They’re about whether trans people have the right to exist in public space.”