BY TRONE DOWD
Last June, the battle against same-sex marriage was all but declared a lost cause, with the Supreme Court determining that all couples have a Constitutional right to be married. Since then however, conservatives have found a new issue to latch themselves on. As pop culture has become more progressive, moving closer to the universal acceptance of all individual gender identities, some states in the U.S. have not joined in on this acceptance. They have instead been making headlines in an attempt to limit their rights in the name of protecting what they consider certain traditional values.
The most controversial of these rights is the right to use a bathroom according to one’s identity.
Gender identity, as many may not know, is very much different from one’s assigned sex. While one’s sex is simply a determination of what sex organ one is born with, gender identity is determined by one’s personal experience. While an individual may be born a man or woman as determined by the medical world, they may not identify or conform with what society has defined as traditional male or female norms. Many times, this identity has nothing to do with and is completely independent from sexual orientation, instead just a matter of what they personally feel. While it has been determined by science as a matter of hormone balance, or a number of other factors, the gist of situation boils down to one’s person feeling of identity.
Those opposed to the freedom of others’ to chose the gender they most identify with have taken this stance due to situations they perceive as dangerous. There is a fear of some individuals using the acceptance of one’s right to choose as a cover to gain access to bathrooms they would otherwise be forbidden from using.
According to some politicians who have been in favor of laws to prohibit this, it would put children at risk as they’d theoretically be sharing a bathroom with adult males.
Various studies from the Human Rights Campaign, the Transgender Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union have all shown that there has never been an incident in which a transgendered person has attacked a straight person or child in a bathroom. In fact, evidence has shown that most of the individuals attacked, harassed or preyed upon in public bathrooms are transgender people. According to a 2013 study done by the Williams Institute of the University of California Los Angeles, 68 percent of transgender people say they have been victims of verbal assaults while using public bathrooms in accordance of their assigned sex. Nine percent of the individuals in the study say they were attacked physically, an issue that has became more common and more fatal in the black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community.
Despite these statistics, there are many that fear the worst is yet to come.
The Laws in Place
As a result of this fear, states around the country have decided to take preemptive measures to keep children safe. These have mostly taken place in the southern states. In North Carolina, a law was passed to make all individuals use the bathroom matching their assigned sex at birth. In South Carolina, a similar bill was set in place to deter people from using the public bathroom in line with their gender identity. While other states like Virginia and Tennessee have tried their hand at similar legislation, their implementation failed. Some states like Texas have decided to tackle the issue on a local level. School districts and entire cities like Houston have introduced city laws banning the use of bathrooms according to gender identity.
New York’s Stance
As expected, here in New York there is a more liberal general consensus on the issue.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has long been one of the more high profile allies of the LGBT community. As far back as March, the mayor issued an executive order allowing New Yorkers in the five boroughs to use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using.
“We want people to know they can go about their lives and not be excluded,” de Blasio said during a press conference in Manhattan. “That’s why this is so important. This is about affirming the right of someone to follow through on their own identity.”
This past May, de Blasio took things a step further making it law for retail establishments in the city to address customers by the name, title and pronoun that they are comfortable with. Failure to adhere to the new law would result in a fine up to $250,000.
In local politics, the mayor’s sentiments are mostly echoed by those who are willing to speak on the issue. Of the six elected officials that the Queens Tribune reached out to, only half responded.
One of these elected officials was none other than U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) who stood with the President’s clear support for the acceptance of gender identity. Last month, the Obama administration issued a directive advising public schools across the country to allow students to use restrooms and other facilities corresponding to their gender identity rather than their assigned sex at birth. The move was seen as a major turning point in the fight for rights for transgendered persons.
“I strongly support President Obama’s efforts to protect all vulnerable members of our society and uphold America’s promise of equality, dignity, and a nation free of discrimination,” Meeks told the Queens Tribune.
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) also replied to a request for comment concerning his stance on the issue.
“People should be able to go to the bathroom where it feels safe, comfortable and natural to them,” Lancman said. The council member continued, damning legislators in the south.
“Don’t these states have real social problems to address, like poverty, teenage pregnancy, underage substance abuse and the like?” he concluded.
Councilman Donovan Richards, Chair of the Progressive Caucus also spoke out on the issue.
“It’s important that we work together as a city and a country to be more inclusive and accepting of all Americans,” Richards told the Queens Tribune. “Last year, City Hall and the City Council transitioned to having all gender bathrooms and our everyday life has not changed a bit.”
Similar to Meeks, Richards commended the President on his position concerning the LGBT community, but wanted schools to make sure that younger children are safe when following the progressive protocol.
“I’d like to applaud President Obama for making a bold stance to protect transgender Americans across the United States, but I do think that there should be a protocol that schools use, particularly for younger students, to ensure that there is no confusion in elementary and middle schools.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly