Update: The Trump Administration declined to protect transgender students from discrimination at school, but in Spring 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order instructing the Department of Education to protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender presentation at school. The Department of Education then published a Notice of Interpretation stating that Title IX will now protect students from these types of discrimination in educational environments- including when they go to the bathroom.
Have you ever really had to use the bathroom? I mean really, really have to go. Maybe it was on a long car trip or trying to finish out a movie or a lecture. Your morning coffee is catching up with you right as you’re headed into a meeting with the boss? It’s intensely uncomfortable, and makes it especially difficult to focus on just about anything else.
Now imagine that you are a trans kid who really has to pee. The school day is about 8 hours long. The bathroom is not a space for refuge and release. The bathroom is where you get bullied, judged and policed. It’s already pretty tough to be a kid. Imagine being a kid, trying to learn, and having to pee.
Rescinding the Obama-era guidance on allowing transgender youth to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity is not about getting big government out of our bathrooms. Instead, it’s about inviting all sorts of government, administration, peers, and parents into your decision about where it feels safe to pee. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s about so much more…
Fundamental right to education
Title IX, a federal regulation that prohibits discrimination based on gender in any school that receives federal funds, is a protection in place to ensure that students of all genders have equal access to education. It is a foundational belief that our country values education and that all of our citizens have a right to learn. Remember that full-bladder feeling, and how hard it makes it to concentrate? If going to the bathroom is simply not a safe option, then transgender students do not have the same fundamental access to education that we prize so highly.
Removing this guidance goes against the recommendations of some big league players in education too. The National Association of School Psychologists, the National PTA, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals recently joined together to release a joint statement disagreeing with this decision. The goal is to publicly state that they support policies and practices that make schools safe and supportive environments for all students. Now that’s something we can get behind!
Bullying and suicide prevention
Many of our schools have adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying. We now know the intense effects of bullying in the school setting, and that it can have a lasting impact on the social and emotional well-being of our students. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students have all invested in the idea that preventing bullying means creating a welcoming and affirming culture in the school setting. It means seeing the value of each individual the makes up the school community. Telling transgender students that their gender identity will not be valued or respected drains that respectful environment.
This not only takes away from the safe environment for trans-students. The flip side of this reality is that it sends the message to the community at-large that gender policing is acceptable behavior. It puts any student at risk for bullying and discrimination. When students are exposed to bullying, it increases their risk for suicide. No one wants to see a young person forced to resort to suicide because they can’t pee freely. That’s just not the American way.
Welcome to our state if…
Sending decisions about bathroom policies back to the state level will mean unequal access to bathroom privileges when you move from state to state. In Pennsylvania, our governor has already released a statement assuring the continued state-wide commitment to protections for transgender students. That’s not the case everywhere. Consider the fallout from bills passed in North Carolina last year. It’s not just about bathrooms and making sure that everyone has a safe place to pee. It’s also about the risk of slowly eroding the rights of certain groups of people. I love driving home to PA, and seeing the signs that say “Welcome to Pennsylvania!” Rescinding this federal guidance creates a dangerous precedent, allowing schools and public entities to systematically remove essential rights and privileges. Moving from state to state will not mean operating freely as citizens of the United States. It will mean living the reality that you will only be “welcomed to Pennsylvania, if you meet certain criteria.”
Finally getting to ‘go’
Now, go back in your mind to that time when really had to pee. Do you remember the absolute ecstasy that is finally getting to the toilet so that you can let go and find some relief. It feels glorious! We all know the feeling. As kind people who care about our families, our neighbors, our friends, and total strangers, I know that every person reading this will want that universal happy feeling for everyone! Get out there and do what you need to do to make sure that every person in your community finally gets to pee in schools. Attend school board meetings, join the PTA, donate to your local LGBT center, or just talk with your families about the essential right to pee in peace.