“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
– Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972
Gavin Grimm is kind of my hero. Designated female at birth, Gavin transitioned openly with the support of his family and friends while in high school, a time in our lives already fraught with the perils of raging hormones, social acceptance, and changing bodies. Widely accepted by his classmates for the young man he is, Gavin did something almost certainly on a daily basis that shouldn’t be at all interesting–after getting his principal’s blessing, he used the men’s room. Seven weeks passed without incident, and life in the sleepy little hamlet on Virginia’s Atlantic coast went on much as it ever had.
And then “concerned parents” got involved.
After bringing it to the attention of the Gloucester School Board, a 6-1 vote mandated that students in the district must use the bathrooms correlating to the gender they were assigned at birth. Because Gavin is a badass, he sued them at age 15 with the help of the ACLU, and eventually won, in no small part to the help of then-President Obama; after directing his Justice Department to extend definitions of discrimination under Title IX statutes to include protections for transgender people, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Gavin’s rights had been unduly infringed upon. The school board appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, which was scheduled to be heard this week. However, it will not.
Due to President Trump’s rescinding of the Obama directive, the 4th Circuit’s ruling no longer applies, which was almost wholly what their arguments insisted upon. The Supreme Court, noting this, sent the case back to the lower courts and vacated all rulings in favor of young Mr. Grimm; the mechanism that built the defense of his rights no longer existed. His lawyers will have to face the lower courts with new arguments based on much more vague definitions of what protections he and the estimated 1.5 million transgender US citizens are entitled to, and Gavin may have to return to a school whose board has shown little concern for this young man and much more fidelity to regressive ideology.
That, sadly, is now their wont, per the advice of the Oval Office:
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same “States’ Rights” argument bigots have employed since the Civil War in attempt to justify horrible, harmful, and sometimes even barbarous practices the combined wisdom of the federal government had sought to curtail or eliminate. You name it, the States’ Rights Strawmen have defended it: slavery, voter disenfranchisement, labor discrimination, housing authority, healthcare access restriction . . . all these and more have been propped up on the populist fencepost that argues a localized population that may largely hold irrational biases is best suited to legislating and enforcing protections for its citizens.
Imagine the Trump Administration’s advice using any other marginalized group and it seems almost impossibly farcical, but because a high court in Texas decided that delegitimizing the struggles trans kids already face and adding to them is a good use of public resources, the blocked Obama order has become the tragic Trump rescindment.
What this means for transgender people, especially students, has yet to be concretely defined, but this decision leaves the door open for local interpretations that will undoubtedly cause harm to a population of kids who are already some of society’s most at-risk. Under the guise of “protection” from non-existent bathroom predators, the executives who drafted this and the conservative base that supports them are instead putting millions of children at risk. Not only will children who are transitioning be made to feel ostracized by their peers and local culture, but this move will undoubtedly cause transgender kids to put off transitioning until they are somewhere they consider safer to their social and possibly physical standing; yet, almost every legitimate resource on transgender children supports transitioning as early as medically possible to prevent the unwanted changes puberty will make to their bodies–changes which often lead to severe depression and suicide in young transgender people.
Much like their record and rhetoric with women’s access to healthcare, the flimsy arguments of conservatives of trying to “protect” people don’t hold up under even the slightest scrutiny; the situations they endlessly scaremonger about have never existed, and the harm their policies will cause is both very real and very predictable. Take, for example, Brae Carnes, Michael Hughes, and Nikki Araguz Loyd. Their pictures show what gender nonconforming people look like using the restroom designated by their sex assigned at birth. Is this what “protection” looks like? Is this the outcome people who want to prevent sexual assault and privacy violations desire? I can’t think so. Education and immersion are the best tools to combat this kind of ignorance, and I personally have seen the good that comes from helping people unfamiliar with transgender struggles find a better understanding and way to relate; after all, we’re all human, aren’t we? Faced with continued resistance in the face of invitations to understanding, however, only leads us to one conclusion as to the desired ends for the aims of arch-conservatives: the complete erasure of trans people. If transgender people aren’t protected from invalidation and discrimination at school or at work or when looking for a home, where are they safe? If being uncomfortable with other kinds of people leads to disenfranchisement–legally protected behind thinly-veiled appeals to religious freedom or public safety–broadening that argument to include private enterprises, the military, healthcare providers, and all other aspects of life is just a short step away. The only asylum in this scenario is exactly where the Right wants all LGBT folks: back in the closet.
Gavin Grimm deserves better. He deserves a more supportive hometown, a more empathetic school board, and more responsible states than the thirteen who sued to prevent students like him from being protected. He certainly deserves better than the bigoted klatch of rusticated regressives sitting in the White House that put him back at square one this week without the slightest thought given to the effect it would have on transgender Americans.
We all deserve better.
If you’re interested in helping spread support and awareness of transgender rights, the team here at Torchlight encourages our readers to become active in the political process. Here are just a few ways to educate yourself further and make a difference:
– GLAAD’s Tips for Allies of Transgender People (unless you’re already trans, that’s you!)
– USA.gov: Call and write your elected representative and let them know where you stand on supporting transgender rights!
– USVote: Keep an eye on your local elections! Until federal protections are in place, state and local elections (including city councils, school boards, judges, and attorneys) are all still capable of affecting the way that policies are made and enforced that impact trans folks.
– Donate! Charities like GLAAD, The National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Human Rights Council have long been legitimate resources for the support, defense, and promotion of transgender rights and protections. Help them help others.