The UA community is reacting to the Feb. 22 decision by the Departments of Justice and Education under President Donald Trump to rescind federal guidelines put in place for transgender students allowing the right to use their school restrooms that match their gender identity.
“It sends a very negative message to young people who often have a vulnerability in their life, it says in a really clear and direct way that who you are doesn’t matter, who you think you are is wrong, and it sends messages that have negative consequences and possibly harm and even end some lives,” said Susan Stryker, associate professor of gender and women's studies and director of the institute for LGBT studies.
Transgender youth have a high rate of suicide in this country and it’s very easy for a trans person to feel alone in these circumstances and feel like they have no out but the one that ends their life, according to Stryker.
“The very real consequence of this decision is that there will be some young person who is struggling with their identity who will have this invalidation that will be added to the already pile of invalidation and they will opt out," Stryker said.
Mel Ferrara, a non-binary trans graduate student, works at the gender and women studies department specifically researching trans issues, believes it is important that all students, trans and cis, should familiarize themselves with Title IX and what the actual policies state and realize that bathrooms aren’t the only issue.
“What strikes me is what it says in a more implicit way about what this administrations care or lack thereof for trans students is, what this says is explicitly denies federal protection in some ways is just saying it’s okay to discriminate against trans students," Ferrara said.
Title IX states "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."
“I think it’s damaging, I think it’s especially damaging for trans youth who are coming into their identity and they may feel as though the government doesn’t care for them and I think it’s a part of a broader issues in terms of transphobia,” Ferrara said.
While bathroom accessibility may be the current issue in the limelight for trans individuals, it isn’t a new issue. Trans people have been here with us all along and people shouldn’t be afraid.
“Get a reality check about the boogeyman fear that gets trotted out about trans people in public restrooms, this stereotype that there is just a man in a dress who is going to rape your daughter and that conjures perversity and craziness and just to be really frank about it people need to call bullshit on that idea because it’s not grounded in reality it’s the fear,” Stryker said.
Stryker said there is no evidence of sexual assault for instances where trans people assault non trans people in bathrooms. She said that there are some conservative estimates of 1.5 million people who were born with one assigned gender and now identify with another.
“I think it’s important to note that this decision doesn’t explicitly ban trans people including trans students from using the restroom that they most identify with. What this decision does do is it gets rid of the federal protection that emphasizes that Title IX protects transgender students,” Ferrara said.
“What this does is it makes it easier for places on the local level to say that trans students cannot use the restroom they want to, whereas federal protections outlined by president Obama made it much more difficult for schools to make that claim,” Ferrara said.
Luckily for students at the UA, the university’s nondiscrimination policy allows individuals to use the restroom that matches their gender identity.
The office of Institutional Equity also stated in their bathroom policy that they strive to designate and maintain a gender-neutral restroom in as many of its buildings as reasonably feasible and construct gender neutral bathrooms in new buildings if it is reasonably feasible.
"We are experiencing a real change in the way our culture is understanding gender and how people understand their own gender, it’s changing the way the climate is changing the way you want to admit that or not, trans people walk among us all the time, they already share public spaces,” Stryker said.
While UA students can use the bathroom the identify with, students should feel comfortable to use whichever bathroom they most see themselves using. Both Stryker and Ferrara believe students should keep their own safety and well-being in mind first.
“Keep yourself safe and be as public and outspoken as you can be, don’t hide, familiarizing others with trans issues is the way to go and trans people should not self-sensor they should live their lives out loud and be proud and if trouble comes there are plenty of resources who will come to their aid, just live as yourself," Stryker said.
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