Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Bathroom Panic Bill Hits Wisconsin

I suppose it was only a matter of time. A transphobic bathroom gender-policing bill has hit my home state and its Republican-controlled legislature. 

Republican state legislators have proposed a bill to require that Wisconsin schools:

1. "Designate all locker rooms and bathrooms for one gender exclusively;"

2. Only allow students to access facilities matching their "biological gender" as determined by chromosomes and anatomy at birth (a framing which incidentally puts intersex children in a terrible position, apparently banned from using any bathroom);

3. Allow transphobic parents to "file a written complaint if they feel their student’s privacy is being violated because of transgender students’ use of a school’s bathroom or locker room;"

4. If transphobic parents are not satisfied by the school's resolution of the complaint, allow them to "file a lawsuit against the district seeking money or other kinds of damages" (among which is mentioned in discussion by one of the bill's sponsors the expulsion of the trans child from the school); and

5. Require the state Department of Justice to defend school districts in lawsuits alleging the policy is discriminatory.

Now, mind you, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has determined that Title IX guarantees trans students protection, including access to facilities that match their gender identity. The U.S. Department of Justice holds that forcing trans students to use a specially-designated separate bathroom instead of the regular gendered facilities violates that student's civil rights. So a lawsuit will follow, and I as a taxpayer will have to pay to have the state lawyers argue that people like me and my wife should be segregated and excluded and treated as a threat.

The legislators introducing this bill use the same-old, same-old tactic of disguising their hatred of trans people as a noble urge to Protect the Children. "What if a [cis] girl is followed into a restroom by someone and she can't tell if it is a trans gender student or a dangerous [cis] male up to no good?" Time after time, cities and towns and school districts voting on whether to protect trans people from discrimination have been faced with hysterical claims that (cis) women and girls would be attacked by a flood of predators if trans people's rights are respected. Time and again, it hasn't happened. You see, it is already illegal to assault people. (Which is not to say that girls and students of other genders aren't sexually assaulted with depressing frequency at high schools. But what is enabling this isn't that their assailants are pretending to be trans--it's that they are seen as very normatively masculine, their behavior is written off with a shrug as "boys will be boys," and it's the victims who get shamed. If Republicans really wanted to protect students from sexual assault, they'd attack rape culture, not trans students.)

I hope that Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, and Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and their counterparts in the other cities and states who are introducing a rash of transphobic "bathroom bills," some day come to feel the full weight of shame their actions deserve. Bear in mind that 78% of trans K-12 students are harassed and assaulted at school. A large-scale study of college students found that a quarter of trans students were raped during their college career. And as a result of pervasive mistreatment and disrespect, 41% of trans people report having attempted suicide in their lives. The transmisogynist trope of "men in dresses" posing some pervasive social threat to cis women and girls conceals the reality: that trans children and adults are victimized and abused and murdered at terrible rates. And the actions of legislators like Kewaskum and Nass treat this state of affairs as all well and good--as in fact, a state that should be made worse.

We really need to work to protect trans children in schools, not attack them. A fair number of school districts in Wisconsin have instituted policies to protect trans students, including the one in which I live and the districts of Menasha and Madison. Students here in Shorewood have been very supportive of the protection of trans students' rights to use the bathroom in peace. In Madison, any student who is possessed by an irrational fear of possibly encountering a trans person in a bathroom is directed to use a special single-stall nongendered facility. There have been no issues, no rash of cis boys suddenly telling everyone they are trans so that they can assault cis girls.

What Republican legislators here in Wisconsin and elsewhere who are introducing gender-policing bathroom bills want to do is reverse the modest degree of social progress trans people have made. They are standing on the side of hate, and their victims are the children, teens and adults who really need protection.