The Trump administration is at it again. The Education department has announced that they will no longer be investigating claims of discrimination on the basis of gender identity, specifically in reference to transgender students being barred from using the bathroom corresponding with their identity. This reverses the guidance of the Obama administration surrounding Title IX, a law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools, and is a clear statement of intent – the safety of transgender students, and by extension, the entire trans community, is no longer a priority.
Much of the justification for this decision is puritanical on the distinction between “sex” and “gender identity”, rather than opting to retain the spirit of the law by adapting it to cater to the needs of the trans community. Education Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill admits that trans people do experience discrimination due to “failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes”, but simultaneously claims that “longstanding regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX”. This displays an inability to grasp the trans experience and the subsequent issues surrounding correct bathroom use, as well as tangible malice towards the community.
This is just one instance in a long line of rulings which essentially discourage transgender individuals from participating in public life. The debate surrounding transgender people’s’ use of bathrooms has been raging since before Trump came into power, but these kinds of rulings only legitimise the fear-mongering of bigots. Casting aside opposition to the US military, the specific exclusion of transgender people from its ranks sent a clear message of intolerance in society more generally. Although this was eventually overruled, it was symptomatic of a society that wishes to push transgender people from the public sphere, just as Title IX essentially prohibits transgender children from participating in education as fully as their cisgender peers.
A fair portion of the outcry against the trans community being able to use the bathroom of their choice has been chalked up to fears regarding sexual predators being able to access bathrooms of the opposite sex, specifically fears of violence against cisgender women and children. However, the truth is that there is no evidence that anti-discrimination laws result in any spike in assaults. Essentially, transgender bathroom laws, including the reversal of the Title IX guidelines, prevent trans people from carrying out their day to day activities, as they are unable to comfortably access public facilities. Such laws are a concerted effort to stem the wave of progress made by trans activists in changing the public attitude.
It is tempting for us in the UK to absolve ourselves of guilt by insisting that this is just a problem of the Trump administration – however, Britain is equally guilty of fostering unsafe environments, with a British trans woman being granted asylum in New Zealand. Besides, the US is by no means monotonous in their disdain regarding trans people, as the election of officials like Danica Roem demonstrates. It remains the case, though, that as long as transgender lives and well-beings are being fought over in courtrooms, and discrimination and hatred is still legal and socially acceptable, it is impossible to lose sight of how far the US – and governments worldwide – have yet to come in the fight for trans rights.