After less than two months in office, the Trump administration undid one of the Obama White House’s pro-LGBT legislation: bathroom rights for LGBT students.
In the interest of children and their safety in school bathrooms, students must use the restroom that aligns with their sex at birth — a blow to parents of transgender children.
“The fact is we’re not asking for our own bathrooms,” said Aryah Lester, the founder and director of Trans Miami. “We’re just asking to have a comparatively safe place in order to just do our business, what everyone else does in the bathroom.”
The fight for bathroom rights among transgender people is actually a part of a long history of unease, prejudice, and segregation in bathrooms. A place where everyone just wants to do their business and leave, since Jim Crow laws and beyond, fear of what happens in the bathroom has lead to stereotyping and legislation under the false guise of safety and health.
“The bathroom itself is a highly sexualized, a place where people come in contact with their sexuality, with their vulnerability. There’s a whole set of rules about bathrooms that exist,” said Fred Fejes, a professor at FAU and a fellow at the Peace, Justice and Human Rights Initiative.
During the civil rights era, racial segregation laws were justified as a means to protect the public from the “crazed negro” and the supposed diseases that black people carried that white people did not. This lead to black people being forced to using separate restrooms and even separate glasses and dinner utensils when working at a white person’s home. Black men especially were characterized as uncontrollable sex fiends who would prey on helpless white women.
“When it produces a brute, he is the worst and most insatiate brute that exists in human form,” wrote Clifton R. Breckinridge of black men in 1900, according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.
While the civil rights era is dealing with separation by race — one that was commonplace and completely accepted without question by many parts of the country — and the transgender “bathroom bill” is gender, or one’s perceived gender, there are many overlapping qualities.
For Lester, the standout for both cases is that one population is being treated as less than. During Jim Crow, black people were perceived as second-class citizens to their white counterparts. In the transgender people bathroom debate, those against using the bathroom of one’s choice is stating that they are not equal to a cisgender person.
“This whole issue is pretty much fabricated,” Lester said. “It’s letting the fear take over from the propaganda that’s allowing people to math wrong decisions when it comes to allowing for protections for people.”
Fear mongering is a huge part of bathroom consciousness, and it’s easy to do since people feel so vulnerable using restrooms. In fact, according to multiple activist groups, including Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, there have been zero verified cases of a transgender person attacking a cisgender person in the restroom.
According to a study by the Williams Institute, transgender people might be the ones who are more likely to be assaulted. The study interviewed 93 transgender people — 68 percent said they have been verbally harassed and 9 percent have been physically assaulted. They also shared stories of being barred from using the restroom at school or at work.
One transgender woman said she was sexually assaulted while in the men’s restroom — the one “bathroom bill” advocates would have wanted her to use.
Fejes pointed out that it’s not only transgender people who historically have been feared in the restroom, but also gay men. The stereotype exists of straight guy fearing an unwanted foot tap between bathroom stalls in a code for sexual activity. In Florida, the “purple pamphlet” was released with sexually explicit photos and warnings detailing how gay men sought oral sex and were sexual deviants. This was all during the “red scare” of the Johns Committee (http://southfloridagaynews.com/National/lgbt-history-month-the-johns-committee-state-sanctioned-homophobia.html), where Florida’s government went after gay men and women in Florida’s universities.
Today, with transgender Americans asking for the right to use the bathroom of their choice, those opposed are crying out for the protection of women and children in restrooms. The argument is that should a transgender woman, physically born a man, be allowed in the women’s restroom, the women will be at risk of being raped or attacked and children will be molested.
“The fear mongering is very similar in both cases,” Lester said of racial segregation and the transgender bathroom issue. “Now we see the same fear mongering happening when it comes to the bathroom issues and inciting fear of child molestation or sexual assault when historically, when we look at the numbers, the numbers really point straight forward that trans people have never been involved in any of these types of incidents.”
To showcase how things will go should opponents get their way, a transgender man created a photo series #WeJustNeedtoPee in 2015. Michael Hughes took selfies in bathroom mirrors alongside female friends applying makeup or walking out of bathroom stalls, and the hashtag went viral among other transgender people showing the outrageousness of restrictive bathroom laws.
With the Trump administration now rolling back the work former President Barack Obama did for the transgender community, the photos are coming back around. In fake, some didn't believe Hughes was born biologically female.
“When you have Caitlyn [Jenner] coming out and so on, it’s really hard to maintain this image that the transgender women who are in the bathroom represent a sexual threat because it’s like, this woman is a threat?” Fejes said.
With Trump striking down Obama’s legislation for transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice in schools, the response has been mixed. Many cheered, praising the president for protecting children from predators and not giving into political correctness. Others, though, were disappointed that he not only disregarded the rights of transgender students, but also was ignoring Title IX rules, which bans discrimination based on a student's sex.
“The message was from the White House was actually that the administration doesn't care for the safety of trans students,” Lester said. “That was a very disappointing thing to hear, [especially] with the high rates of bullying and teen suicide that we have, especially with the LGBT community.”