President Trump’s recent ruling to turn transgender bathroom rights back into the hands of the individual states has caused an uproar in America’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. Firstly, because transgender students are being forced to use the restroom of their biological sex rather than their chosen identity, they are at risk for more threats of violence, harassment, and social isolation. Secondly, schools that are federally funded are being allowed to make decisions solely at the state level. Lastly, conservative states are the least likely to impose separation of church and state due to piousness. As a result, the majority of conservative states are consistently the last to grant LGBT rights and protections. Nonetheless, the students are affected the most in this situation, and without the help of the federal government, transgender students are left vulnerable to discrimination.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported in its 2016 collective hate crime report that 19.4 percent of all hate crimes in America were committed with either sexual orientation or gender bias as the reason. It should be noted that crimes committed against the LGBT community are often not targeted against them specifically because they are rather than their actions. For example, the 2016 Orlando gay nightclub shooting left more than 49 wounded and 50 dead. The club, Pulse, was self described as „Orlando’s hottest gay club,“ and its tragedy sent ripples of fear throughout LGBT community and their loved ones. The New York Times dubbed the massacre as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Transgender students in America also have higher rates of bullying and harassment than other students. In a recent study conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 51 percent of transgender participants had been either bullied or harassed in school. With the disadvantage of also being a minority in America, transgender students are already more vulnerable to assaults and crimes, so why would the president of the United States of America turn the rights of transgender students back into the hands of states? The power of protection for the LGBT community is in his hands; however, even with (or without) the knowledge of transgender students‘ discrimination issues he has chosen a political stance over a human rights stance. Our government should work for the good of all citizens, but that does not seem to be the case with transgender students in public schools.
President Trump’s predecessor, President Obama, ruled that it was within reason to issue a federal law to grant rights, privileges, and protections to transgender students since some schools receive federal funding. The laws protect transgender students in socially conservative states from discrimination while also preventing federally funded schools from having, at their discretion, the right to make decisions solely at the state level. The government often grants funding to specific public schools in need. In return, the money is supposed to be used in the best interest of all students; however, in conservative states such as Mississippi, transgender students are being denied the right to use the restroom that matches their chosen identity. If public schools can accept federal funding, then why should they be exempt from abiding by federal law, which grants rights to all citizens? The argument made by President Obama is that the federal government is meant to work and represent all people, whether black, white, gay, straight, transgender, or agender. Second, because it is known that within conservative states, LGBT rights are opposed due to values and beliefs, the federal government often times has to intervene. So, if the schools are federally funded, then why doesn’t the federal government, given the current political tide, have the right to intervene when individual citizens are not being granted their rights? Well, according to conservatives, social issues such as those presented by the LGBT community are the purview of individual states. Furthermore, conservatives believe that the federal government has no right to impose liberal agendas upon citizens of conservative states who voted to have a conservative governing body. Citizens of conservative states also fear that their personal rights are not being respected by the federal government because they (the majority) have „spoken“ with their vote, yet they are being exposed to lifestyles contrary to their own and their religious beliefs. While the majority of a particular state may be conservative, that does not mean that all members of that state are conservative or voted conservatively. In other words, the government is built to listen to all people, not just the majority. So, while transgender students are the minority in conservative states, they still have a say regarding their rights. And the government, according to President Obama, should be there to provide protection and legal sanctities to its most vulnerable citizens, transgender students.
Lastly, southern conservative states, also known as the „Bible Belt,“ shroud many of their beliefs in religion. Separation of church and state is a legal principle meant to discourage the intermingling of religion and politics because the consequences often result in infringement upon individual liberties. The most notable argument in recent years is that marriage is between a man and a woman, according to biblical texts. It is with these views that the majority of conservative politicians govern their states. According to the IndyStar, Bruce Borders, a Republican from Jacksonville, Indiana, rejected a 2016 bill to grant civil rights, protections, and liberties to citizens based on sexual orientation and gender identity citing infringement upon religious beliefs as his reason. It is in one’s full right to believe in their religious or biblical teachings; however, it is another issue to enforce laws upon citizens to uphold those beliefs. For example, conservative states were the last to legalize gay marriage and many did not do so until the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage was a federal right and thus legal in all 50 states. Again, the federal government had to intervene to provide access to a basic right such as marriage to the LGBT community. As stated previously, it is well within the rights of politicians to have religious freedom, but there appears to be an overlapping of religious beliefs and law making. The duty of our state governing bodies is to provide rights, not suppress them.
Together with harassment and violence, conservative laws, and the stripped protection of the federal government, transgender students are very vulnerable to abuse in conservative state schools. The statistics of bullying and harassment among transgender teens is alarming and should provoke further conversation concerning their well-being and safety. Also, the federal government has a history of intervening and protecting the LGBT community when states, specifically conservative states, infringe upon their rights. President Obama’s ruling on transgender bathroom rights and the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage are two prominent examples of the federal government intervening on behalf of citizens. While some social conservatives may hold views that they believe are in danger due to social progress, it is well within reason to assume that transgender students in conservative states will be forced to abide by rules and regulations that actually do infringe upon their rights. Separation of church and state is an American founding principle that forewarns the dangers of governing religious bodies enforcing laws upon vulnerable citizens. Transgender students are a minority group who are in dire need of the federal government because most conservative states refuse to provide sufficient protections and rights. In essence, our government is working in direct opposition of one of its most vulnerable groups. And for citizens of the United States of America, a country that was founded upon the principles of freedom and equality, that is completely unacceptable.
Shannon Craig is a student of Master’s degree in Cultural Sociology
Article was proofread and edited by Nadya Jaworsky