Transgender bathroom rights rise to the forefront

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While the fight for equal access continues, many turn to gender neutral bathrooms as a way to silence opposers fears and accommodate the needs of not only transgender students, but all students who may feel uncomfortable using a public bathroom. Photo courtesy of Jessie Daniels. 

By Claire Halloran

In recent weeks, transgender bathroom rights have garnered an augmented amount of attention due to President Donald Trump’s revocation of an Obama-era guidance that ensured transgender students were protected under Title IX, an amendment that prevents sex-based discrimination in schools and other federally funded educational programs.

The laws and guidelines relating to equal access to bathrooms vary widely from state to state and city to city. While there is no state law protecting transgender people’s bathroom rights in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill in April of 2016 which protects transgender people from discrimination.

Several cities, including Philadelphia, have released guidelines that assure the public that bathroom rights are included in the protections against discrimination in the workplace.

A common point of opposition raised against equal access laws is that they could be manipulated to the benefit of sexual predators. Critics call this the “bathroom predator myth.”

Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is a vocal opponent of the bathroom predator myth, as studies have shown that there is zero correlation between allowing equal access to bathrooms and a rise of sexual assault. When discussing the importance of transgender people’s bathroom rights, Strangio cites the “very clear evidence that transgender students face high rates of bullying and harassment and suicide, and that the thing that helps protect trans students is respecting who they are and treating them like their other— like their peers.”

Chris Dungee, counselor at Delaware County Community College, went on to discuss the importance of transgender bathroom rights, and the steps that DCCC has made to be more inclusive.

“By forcing a person to use the wrong bathroom, that of their born sex, you are proving that you do not respect them or their gender,” said Chris Dungee.

DCCC currently has two gender neutral bathrooms, one located in the STEM Center and the other located across from the Career and Counseling Center. Dungee said having access to gender neutral bathrooms is important not only for transgender students, but also gender queer students, and pointed out that it is an advantage to anyone who may feel uncomfortable using a public bathroom.

“Education on this subject is so important,” said Dungee. He believes education is critical for the progression of transgender rights.

“Bathroom rights are so simple, and yet the Trump administration is not even willing to allow one of the most basic human rights to the transgender community,” Dungee said.

Experts in both psychology and human rights agree that taking away equal access to bathrooms could have a heavy negative impact on transgender people and students.

“This is a slippery slope because if the current administration revokes bathroom rights, it is creating a path of oppression and human rights violations that could be dangerous for the transgender community due to bullying and harassment,” Dungee said.

Gender validation is important to the development of young transgender students, as proven in a study conducted by Psychology of Women Quarterly, a peer-reviewed scientific journal that specializes in research regarding women and gender. The study showed a positive correlation between gender validation and quality and satisfaction in life. It also showed that the weaker gender validation was in a transgender person’s life, the more susceptible they were to anxiety and depression.

According to a study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA, 41 percent of the transgender participants had attempted suicide. Twenty percent of transgender students have reportedly attempted suicide, which is over double the rate reported by average student population, according to the CDC.

By revoking bathroom rights, many experts are concerned about the harmful effect it might take on young transgender students mental health. “The reality is that kids will be harmed by this,” Strangio warns. “And, you know, I can’t say it more strongly, but the blood is on the hands of these lawmakers, who are making it a priority to make vulnerable kids feel less safe.”

Contact Claire Halloran at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu