Our community sits on pins and needles waiting for a decision from South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard on HB 1008 making it illegal for schools to recognize a transgender student’s gender identity for the purposes of restroom use.
Initially Daugaard indicated he would sign it without speaking to any transgender people to avoid bias. After an outcry rightly asking how he could make an informed decision when, by his own account, he had never knowingly met a transgender person, he agreed to meet with a small group of trans people. That meeting took place this past week. Now that the bill has reached his desk, he has until next Tuesday, March 1, to sign it.
Activists have seized these few days to mobilize. A petition circulated by the ACLU garnered tens of thousands of signatures. Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, arguably the two most prominent transgender faces in today’s America, have lent their voices to the struggle. Mara Keisling, the director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington DC, took it upon herself to visit South Dakota personally.
Will it be enough? We’ll know Tuesday.
However once the furor dies down for good or for bad, we’ll be left with the reality that more such bills are sure to follow. Brynn Tannehill points out in a recent Huffington Post blog entry that the nationwide anti-LGBT organization Family Research Council (FRC), has made introducing and passing such bills a priority. Even if we push back this awful bill in South Dakota, more will pop-up around the country. Do our leaders and rights organizations have the energy, money, and time to play whack-a-mole with bathroom laws across all 50 states? I don’t think so.
We need a better solution than jetting across country whenever these bills move forward..
20 members of the South Dakota senate and 58 members of the house voted in favor of the bill. Some of those may be vicious haters of transgender people, but I’d like to believe that a fair number simply didn’t understand how difficult HB 1008 would make life for its victims. I would claim that’s our fault. The responsibility for educating legislators about our lives falls squarely on our shoulders. Sure, it would be nice if they took it upon themselves to understand our needs, but, as the saying goes, “How’s that workin’ for ya’ so far?” In South Dakota, the answer would be, “Not well.”
Avoiding numerous repeats of the South Dakota debacle and frequent defeats at the uncaring hands of the FRC requires being proactive. We must explain to legislators why these bills are horrible. Local transgender advocates need to hold teach-ins, to lobby lawmakers, to write articles, to make our voices heard. Anyone with an ounce of empathy can easily be made to see why any solution preventing us from using restrooms corresponding to our gender creates major hardship. In that respect, our job is pretty easy. A politician need not know much to understand why restricting transgender bathroom rights are a bad idea. I would boil it down to a few basic facts:
- Our gender identities are part of us. We have no choice but to be who we are.
- Many of us live full time and blend in as members of our gender. We can’t sometimes appear as another gender for purposes of safe restroom use.
- Many of us have physical characteristics outside the norm for our gender. We can’t help that. Requiring looks or dress to conform to some standard as a condition of safe restroom use discriminates based on appearance and violates freedom of expression.
- Like all human beings, we need to use the restroom. A trip to the restroom for us must be routine, not dangerous. Lack of safe restroom access is inhumane.
- Requiring separate facilities for transgender people forces us to disclose our status. That singles us out for discrimination and violates our privacy.
- Dividing our community based on appearance or history of medical interventions discriminates based on economic means and pressures us into treatments that should be our personal choice.
- Transgender people in America make millions of public restroom visits a year without incident. Outlawing these visits causes hardship for no useful purpose.
If every state and local legislator in America understood these few points, future disasters like the South Dakota law would become far less likely.