In the popular movie of 1939, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Gary Cooper plays an unassuming honest senator from Montana who takes on corrupt Washington politicians. This week, a shy, humble and determined seventeen year-old high school student from Gloucester, Virginia, Gavin Grimm travelled to Washington with his mother to be the lead plaintiff in a case that may settle the whole “bathroom issue” once and for all.
Wearing a hoodie, emblazoned with A.C.L.U., Gavin left his rural town, his pet pig Esmeralda, to represent himself and potentially other transgendered men and women in a suit involving his usage of his high school bathrooms. This suit may go all the way to the Supreme Court and become a landmark case. After being on “The View,” last Thursday, where he wore a dress shirt stowed in his makeshift luggage, a large white plastic bag, G.G., as he’s known, is now known as an activist for transgender rights and a hero to many transgenders.
What’s At Stake: More Than Dignity
Gavin, since he was twelve or thirteen, has identified as a boy even though he was born a girl and a twin. Yet, he is not allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at his school. Gavin’s school has built single-user bathrooms to try to placate outspoken parents and complaining girls. “It’s incredibly frustrating, it’s embarrassing, it’s very uncomfortable,” attests Gavin who feels that this discrimination makes him feel different from his peers. He uses the nurse’s restroom instead and that also feels discriminatory.
(Of course, by the time The Supreme Court decides, Gavin may be out of high school, the Supreme Court could send the case back to the appeals court or wait for other cases to piggyback.)
But that’s not the point. What is the point is that President Trump on February 22nd rescinded Obama’s Federal Directive on Bathroom Use, instructing public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender, not the one on their birth certificate. The Obama administration’s guidance was based on its determination that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, also applies to gender identity.
About Face For Trump: Feels Overreach Violates Safety & Privacy of Straight People
Soon after Trump took office, he announced that he intended to continue enforcing an executive order Obama issued to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Ha!
Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex.
Yet, last week, he and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, bowing to the religious right, decided that states’ rights should take precedence. The Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos did not want to rescind the Obama guidelines, and recognized the severe risk of not having those Federal laws in place.
Although DeVos told the Political Action Conference, CPAC, on February 23rd, that the “issue was a huge example of Obama administration overreach, one-size-fits-all approach to issues best solved at personal and local levels,” she also admitted that “we have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment.” Even Caitlyn Jenner, a Republican, is annoyed at the Republican response to the federal directive.
GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) latest national climate survey reported that 77% of trans students experience harassment or bullying in schools and over 50% of trans youth commit suicide. Those that identify as transgender will not feel safe, but harassed at school.
PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians & Gays as well as Transgenders) National & GLSEN relaunched, in response, their joint #Claim Your Rights Campaign from 2009.
Statistics aside, I once interviewed a f-t-m ( born female, transitioned to male), who appeared in the “ Fear chapter “of my co-authored book When Your Child Is Gay,” (Sterling, 2016) Miserable in high school, he used to change into baggy amorphous clothes once he got to school so he could feel more comfortable. However, not totally comfortable in his own skin and at war with the sex he was assigned at birth, as soon as he legally could, realizing he was transgender, he started taking hormones. He attended college where he was more accepted. He told me that if he could not have transitioned, he would have killed himself.