bathroom billsLGBTQ studentstransgender issues

A conversation with Dr. Karen Rayne about transgender students and SB6

Out Youth is a Central Texas organization serving LGBTQ young people with a variety of programs. Right now, they are sponsoring a campaign called #TakeMyHandTexas, and giving away free buttons to symbolize support for transgender rights, explaining: “When you wear a #TakeMyHandTexas button, you’re showing that not only are you an ally to this community, but you’ll also gladly accompany someone to any gender-specific space they feel uncomfortable going to alone, including the bathroom.” 

How can allies talk with legislators, friends, and family about issues of civil rights, privacy, and fairness when it comes to the transgender community?

 It really depends on whom you’re talking to. Some people are lacking good information and quite open to incorporating new ideas when they’re presented. So in that case, statistics and examples you might find in news coverage are helpful. I think one of the best books on the subject is Sam Killermann’s A Guide to Gender: The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook, which is coming out in a new edition on March 8.

We can talk about the real-world impact of SB6 on vulnerable students, and we can talk about the fact that if protecting people against sexual predators in private spaces like restrooms is the goal, those laws are already on the books. If you think someone is open to new information, then have some solid facts available.

A 2015 Media Matters report found that in 17 school districts with a total of 600,000 students, protections for trans people resulted in no problems with harassment in bathrooms or locker rooms as a result of the protections.

I think one of the biggest problems this kind of legislation introduces is that it encourages and gives license to ordinary people to police others’ behavior.

One real-world impact that people may not be aware of is how laws like the one proposed in Texas stratify gender-nonconforming communities into those who “pass” in the larger community and those who do not. So, for example, if you have undergone hormone treatments or had surgery as part of your transition and you look very feminine, you will be much less likely to be questioned or attacked for using the women’s restroom, and more likely to be questioned or attacked for using the men’s. Transgender women who still look more masculine and cis-gender women who happen to look and dress in a more traditionally masculine way face questions and attacks no matter where they go.

Two advocacy and support organizations with great collections of resources for students, families, and schools are Trans Youth Equality Foundation and Gender Spectrum.

And what about talking with people who don’t seem as eager to receive new information, facts, and statistics?

There are people who have a perspective on gender that is narrow and specific, so for them the idea of a transgender person is an emotional and cultural assault. I think it’s usually not about religious doctrines—I’ve found many religious communities that are strong supporters of transgender people. A lot of religious people hear and feel salience in the notion that “God made me a girl, but then my body did not follow instructions.” Often religious communities support people trying to align themselves physically with what they feel God intended for them.

So, for those who feel assaulted by the idea of transgender people, I think it’s more about inherited cultural values and expectations than religion. We often grow up tied to our culture’s gender structures, without much evidence as to why. In that case, it’s hard to break through unless something happens that makes them question those values and structures.

Do you have any predictions on what we’ll see in terms of both the politics of SB6 and the culture as relates to transgender students?

I would never underestimate how conservative the legislature is, so I would really be stunned if the bill doesn’t pass. But that said, the way our school districts run is somewhat independently, so the implementation might vary a lot.

It’s an interesting time to be alive and looking at these issues. And overall, I think we are coming into a time of more openness. I see us swinging toward openness and acceptance among young people toward each other and toward diversity in terms of gender and sexuality. The current political climate is about reacting to that swing toward openness, and we may lose some footing for a while, but in the long run, openness and compassion and diversity will overcome.

Recommended Reading:

  • Sam Killermann, A Guide to Gender: The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook, updated version due out March 8, 2017.
  • “Bathroom Bill” Legislative Tracking, National Conference of State Legislatures (updated regularly as new legislation is introduced); the site also includes some helpful explainers about the history of this type of legislation.
  • Niraj Chokshi, “One in Every 137 Teenagers Would Identify as Transgender, Report Says,” New York Times, February 23, 2017.
  • German Lopez, “Texas’s anti-transgender bathroom bill, explained,” Vox, January 5, 2017.
  • Carlos Maza, “Debunking The Big Myth About Transgender-Inclusive Bathrooms: Experts Call Bathroom Myth ‘Beyond Specious,’” Media Matters, March 20, 2014.
  • John Wright, “New Data Suggests ‘Bathroom Bill’ Would Burden Nearly All Transgender Texans,” Texas Observer, January 26, 2017.
  • “Understanding Transgender Access Laws,” New York Times, February 24, 2017.
  • Maria Danilova and Sadie Gurman, “Trump Administration lifts transgender bathroom guidance,” Austin American Statesman, February 22, 2017.
  • And some federal resources on bullying and LGBT youth are also available.

Finally,  for some good laughs with a Texas-style political edge, don’t miss this short web ad by Oscar-nominated Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater!

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