Friday, December 12, 2014

Transgender student denied bathroom access in Virginia

It has been a week of adults fighting over and making decisions about where children can go to the bathroom and change their clothes.

First it was the Minnesota State High School League (which we wrote about here and here; check out UIowa PhD candidate Cathryn Lucas-Carr's post about the policy and some historical context here). And a couple of days ago the debate emerged, minus an explicit athletics component, in Virginia where a high school student has come out as a transgender male. Gavin Grimm was given permission--by the principal--to use the boys' bathroom and has been doing so all fall seemingly without incident.

A school board proposal drafted by one board member, Carla Hook, last month and approved this week now states that students whose birth sex matches their gender identity will be allowed to use communal restrooms. Transgender students will be provided private accommodations. In other words, bathroom usage will be dependent on the sex you were assigned at birth regardless of gender identity. Anyone who identifies differently will use entirely separate facilities.The same is true of locker room facilities.

It seems like the Gloucester County Public School Board was trying to be understanding given that the statements within the proposal did not outright (they believe) discriminate against transgender students and supported those with "sincere gender identity issues."

Here is what I read both in this policy and the one in Minnesota last week. Organizations/associations/school boards know they can't outright disparage these students by saying they are not "real" boys or girls. I guess we should be thankful for the current moment of greater cultural awareness in which some people are realizing that gender identity is a civil rights issue. What the policies are, though, are attempts to avoid legal issues. But it is clear that these decision makers know very little about the issues. The lack of understanding about gender identity (I mean we haven't even gotten into the "complicated" stuff like non-binary and genderqueer) has resulted in poorly worded policies that do little to ease the problems transgender students face. Grimm himself commented that the separate facilities option will likely cause him greater anxiety and depression--issues he has faced in the past.

The issues of student privacy being invoked in the discourse surrounding these policies is not about the privacy of transgender student, it is about the privacy of cisgender students. I question this idea that cisgender students' need more or would be denied more privacy rights that their transgender peers.

On a slightly more hopeful note: I suspect that the GCPS policy will not hold up under legal scrutiny. A similar action in Maine did not and the state was recently forced to pay out a settlement to a student and her family. I would like to see some challenges mounted to the Minnesota policy as well.