Rollback on transgender civil rights endangers youth
In the tumult of Donald Trump’s presidency, transgender people are being thrown to the wolves.
The most recent battle between the Trump administration and transgender rights, as of the writing of this piece, was the pullback on Title IX protections for transgender students regarding bathroom usage in local schools. The protections were set in place by the Obama administration and allowed trans students to use bathrooms in schools under Title IX based on their gender identity.
With the loss of these protections, the trans community faces a blow against our civil rights, civil rights that we’ve been gaining on shaky, uncertain ground over the past few decades. The reported reluctance of Betsy DeVos, a controversial right-wing figure in her own right, to sign off on removing these protections is a telling sign of how damaging they can be.
Trans rights for students and adults alike have been an ongoing conversation for our country in recent years because of trans visibility. We have only recently been given a platform to exist in the eyes of society, let alone the ability to exist with any sense of “equality.” We, in this case, being transgender, non-binary, agender, gender queer, two-spirit and third-gender folx. Despite the fact that trans identities and experiences have existed historically, both in and out of Western colonial contexts, for centuries, our civil rights are tenuous in the best of circumstances.
The absence of these protections creates an environment that allows trans people, particularly trans youth, to be viewed as unworthy of respectable humanity. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 77 percent of students out or perceived as trans in K-12 schools experienced a form of mistreatment based on their trans identity. Twenty-four percent were physically attacked; 13 percent were sexually assaulted and more than half (54 percent) were verbally assaulted.
The same survey also noted that 17 percent experienced such high levels of mistreatment that they chose to leave a K-12 school. This means that the harassment is so great that trans students either have to move to another K-12 school, seek out alternative schooling or leave the educational system completely. The choice that is made here is also contextualized by whether or not those students have support at home to continue their education.
Janet Mock, a black Hawaiian transgender activist, discussed the same topic in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. “When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet — it also blocks them from public life,” Mock wrote.
It’s a fundamental truth. Being able to use a public space is about being able to exist in a society as a whole. If someone cannot pee in a public restroom, they will avoid going to the bathroom even if they need it. If they get health complications from consistent lack of going to the bathroom, they are likely to be discriminated against in the healthcare system. If they are discriminated in the health care system, they are unlikely to go to a doctor for assistance. If they leave medical issues untreated by conventional doctors, they may run the risk of dying or creating more severe health complications.
The domino effect is apparent, and it only grows more and more likely when said trans youth are affected by poverty, when they are of color, when they have disabilities, and when they are of mixed documentation. Trans youth, especially trans girls of color, are at a great risk for being wiped out of our society.
These civil rights are being challenged again by the case of Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old trans boy who is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in his case to use the bathroom based on his gender identity. The case is set to go to the Supreme Court, which currently has eight seated judges. Right now, with trans rights being a hotly debated topic even amongst the political left, there is no guarantee that Grimm’s case will pull forward in the favor of trans people.
Trans youth need to be protected. Educators need to come to their aid where DeVos did not by supporting their right to use the bathroom of their choosing. Politicians need to support legislation that improves the civil liberties of trans people and block legislation that limits those liberties. Everyday citizens need to protect trans people in their lives, and keep special attention on trans youth that may not have access and resources to methods of survival.
Surviving in this world is a privilege. A 2016 study from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that 30 percent of trans youth have reported having at least one suicide attempt and 42 percent report a history of self-harm. Trans youth do not currently have the tools to survive in the U.S. Unless we fight Trump’s administration, the trans community will be on the verge of total destruction. We have to dedicate ourselves to the survival of trans people, not just the survival of our country.
John Jacobson is a fourth-year integrated marketing communications major who wants all people to feel they have the right to basic survival. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org