For better or worse, the next battleground for trans rights will take place in public school bathrooms and locker rooms, now that the Obama administration has issued formal guidelines demanding that “Public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.”
While same-sex marriage and gay rights have gone mainstream in the past decade, particularly among younger Americans, trans rights have never before taken center stage in LGBT civil rights issues. Now, conservatives and liberals will use a generation of trans children as a battleground for competing visions of gender, sex, and civil rights.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said after the guidelines were released. “We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence.”
Today, as many as one in three students is involved in some type of bullying at school, and trans students are particularly vulnerable. Trans students have an increased risk of harassment and suicide, even though many conservatives have sought to portray trans people as sexual predators.
While the guidelines do not contain new legal requirements, the federal government could withhold educational funding from states that fail to comply. Despite this, many conservative politicians vowed to defy the new guidelines, come hell or high ativan water.
The new guidelines come on the heels of controversial “bathroom bills” in places like Houston, Mississippi, and North Carolina, where trans people are required to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender identity on their birth certificate.
Conservatives have raised the specter of child molesters and bathroom perverts in wigs to fight back against a rising tide of trans acceptance. So far, there is little to no evidence that any sexual predators have masqueraded as trans people to gain access to women’s bathrooms, despite widespread fear among many conservatives.
After the passage of a controversial bathroom bill in North Carolina, which resulted in companies like PayPal removing operations from the state, NPR spoke with police officers in the state who said the HB2 bathroom bill was unenforceable.
“The only way for us be able to enforce HB2 would to actually have officers posted outside of public restrooms requesting someone’s birth certificate. And I know for certain that we could not do that. That would take everyone that we have on staff. It would take them off the streets, off patrol and having to put them at bathrooms,” said Christina Hallingse, the public information officer for the Asheville Police Department.
With the new public school guidelines, the Obama administration is framing what they say is the next great civil rights issue of the day, though many social conservatives aren’t prepared to cede any more ground to a lame duck president.