Are we really engaged in an argument about bathroom rights? It seems that way, but I believe that this is just obfuscation for prejudice and hatred of the other – in this case, it is directed against the LGBQT community and by extension, any community that is not white or straight.
I want to share a teacher story about my time in public school classrooms. During my time in the classroom I made a connection to a community group called the Attic – this was a group in downtown Philly that provided a safe place and counseling, if desired, to the LGBQT student community. They provided decals for me to place on my classroom door to designate my classroom as a safe place to congregate. Students did not have to engage in any talk with me in order to come into my classroom, but if they chose to we could talk and I could provide a place where they could raise questions or concerns, and if need be, a referral for the Attic. Many students would come to my classroom during prep periods or lunch period. The students may have been LGBQT students or they may have simply been an outsider for other reasons. They would come to do homework, work on computers, play card games, or just talk to each other.
This teacher story is about one of those students that used to come to my classroom for respite. One day I was on a SEPTA bus on my way to my classroom. As I settled into a seat I noticed a young woman sitting behind me – she looked vaguely familiar but I could not place her in my mind. After a few minutes she leaned up to me and whispered, “Mr. Bowers do you remember me?” I had to admit that I did not but I beckoned to the seat next to me and invited her to sit there so we could talk. She proceeded to tell me her name – but it was a male name that I did remember. Seeing the confusion on my face (I was really pretty dense!) she told me her name now and proceeded to tell me that she was working for a social agency advocating for other LGBQT students. She gave me a business card with her contact info on it and after a short conversation – all done in whispers so no one else could hear – we parted ways when I reached my destination.
I share this story in light of the news today about Unpresident Trump’s rescinding President Obama’s regulation regarding bathroom use for transgender students. This has never been just about bathroom use. Gay, lesbian and transgender students have forever and always used bathrooms at their own peril. This is about students claiming their own identity and being free to make that proclamation. When I was teaching I used to go into the student bathrooms – sometimes it was to use the facilities, but it was always to ensure that no harassment was happening to students that I cared for. I never stated publicly (though I did share it with some colleagues) why I used student bathrooms, and at times, I suspect that I was seen as a bit odd, but I believe that some students knew what I was doing.
In today’s news I read that DeVos did not want to agree to Trump’s action, and she had a choice – stand up for what she seems to believe in or cave in to Trump’s hatred. Of course, she caved. She had an opportunity to stand for something but her integrity and belief is as shallow as a child’s wading pool. Jeff Sessions, from what I have read, supported Trump’s action. Of course he did – he has a history of anti-gay actions and he acted as one would expect a denier of human rights to act.
This issue of transgender bathroom use is just the beginning of the Trump assault on human rights. He has no intention of representing all of the people, and we must continue the resistance until we are rid of the cancer he represents. Please continue to call your legislators on the issues that are before us, take to the streets, donate to groups in the resistance, vote in the next round of elections – do what you can, as much as you are able.