In recent weeks, the debate over whether transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom matching their gender identity has dominated the media’s coverage. The safety of cisgender children in bathrooms has become a major argument against allowing transgender people to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in. Problematically, the safety of transgender children has been left out of the conversation.
To first really understand the conditions and safety of transgender children, it’s important to define what a transgender person is, and the various terms associated with this debate. Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were given at birth. Cisgender people are people whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were given at birth. Gender identity is your personal, internal feeling over being a man, woman, or something outside of that traditional gender binary. Typically, it’s a good idea to ask what pronouns a person may prefer (such as him/he or her/she). It’s a bad idea, just like it’s a bad idea to ask me as someone who identifies as cis, details about private parts. They are, after all, private. Curiosity is natural, but the choice to act on that curiosity is not only impolite but also uncomfortable and offensive to many. For a more comprehensive explanation of what terms associated with the transgender community refer to, the GLADD Media Reference Guide is a well-respected resource.
The recent passing of legislation ordering citizens to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex have been passed in the name of safety --particularly the safety of cisgender children. This claim that children are more protected with the passing of these bills are based off false pretenses. There has been no accounted instance of a transgendered person committing an act of violence in a bathroom. Spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union have all released statements regarding the fact there has been no statistical evidence to support the notion that a transgender person has ever harassed a non-transgender person in a bathroom. According to The Advocate, there’s also been no instance of male predators "pretending to be transgender" -- another major cited concern in this debate.
Having these concerns, although based on no statistical evidence, isn’t entirely unjustified. These myths of violence and pretending have been perpetrated in a way that it seems like they are actual, legit instances that have occurred. Parents are instinctively concerned with their children’s safety -- which is what makes those who regard these myths as true, when they are aware there is no basis for their claim, so atrocious.
In the face of this debate, transgender children and adults are having to ask themselves a terrible question: Should I go to one bathroom and possibly get harassed, or go into another and possibly get arrested? Troubling statistics about discrimination faced by transgender people is often omitted in media coverage, and the reality of the questions transgender people are faced with are, therefore, not given the attention they should be. For example, roughly 70 percent of transgender people have reported being denied entrance, harassed, or assaulted while trying to use a restroom. More than 50 percent of transgender youth will attempt suicide by their 20th birthday. Transgender people of color are at an even higher risk of suicide, as well as transgender people in states without legal protection against discrimination and those who have actually been discriminated against.
Going beyond statistics, it’s important to note that some of the most gruesome murders that received minimal media attention in the past 15 years have been of transgender children and young adults. Gwen Araujo of California was beaten and strangled in 2002. Keisha Jenkins was stabbed in the throat, bled out in the street, and later died in a hospital. Amber Monroe was gunned down in the street in an area of Detroit, Michigan known for transgender sex work. Yazmin Vosh Payne’s body burned in her apartment after she had been stabbed in Los Angeles, California. Unfortunately, many more transgender people were faced with horrible fates due to the trans-phobia that has been and is currently manifesting within our country.
This trans-phobia has manifested to a point where people feel uncomfortable, or feel as if they would be uncomfortable, in the presence of a transgender person --in recent months, this feeling of discomfort has becoming a major part of this whole bathroom debacle. Putting aside the notion that people actually feel comfortable in public bathrooms in the first place, it’s important to determine what weight personal comfort level holds in this debate.
The whole idea that a person’s comfort level is justification for not protecting a group of people from discrimination is, frankly, absurd. To allow harassment for a marginalized group to continue for sake of comfort, whether it be a parent or a child’s comfort, is a mind-blowing step backwards for this country. Especially when considering that to ensure this "comfort" means to discriminate, single out, and increase the chances of suicide for transgender people.
And to be completely honest? I’m pretty sure some of my late relatives wouldn’t be "comfortable" going to the bathroom with people of color. They sure wouldn’t be with transgender people. But, it is the year 2016. Progress has been made and progress to protect from discrimination will continue to be made, whether it be immediate or through a slow struggle. They, like many others, would have to get over their discomfort because a private, personal reason of discomfort is not justification for eliminating public decrees and legislation protecting a group of marginalized Americans.