In directing public school districts to let students use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, President Obama’s administration recognized the need to provide top-down cover for a group of people that are routinely subjected to severe discrimination. They also recognized that assuring the civil rights (the right to receive equal treatment and ensure one’s ability to participate in civil life without discrimination or repression) of a minority couldn’t be left to the majority. That’s why Diane Douglas is wrong when she says “Every local community across Arizona is unique, and I know that the people who live in those communities should be making the decisions when it comes to this and many other education issues.” How well did “leaving it to communities” work for Black people in the deep South during the Jim Crow days?
Look, I get that many people are uneasy with the whole transgender issue. I managed Wingspan, (Arizona’s LGBT Community Center), for over a year and had more exposure than most to the transgender community. We had transgender people on staff (a couple of them were transitioning during the time I worked there) and we supported the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA.) If I am totally honest, I still struggle with totally embracing this community. But, I have great respect for what transgender people go through just to be themselves. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no one would put themselves through the ridicule, discrimination and pain of transitioning unless they felt they had no other option. My bottom line is that I accept transgender people and respect their right to live freely and safely as equal members of our society.
Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs obviously doesn’t feel the same way. He said the Administration’s directive “has no place in the value system that we seek to instill in our children from their earliest age” and that “the rules and norms of modern society may change, but biology will not”. With this statement, Biggs demonstrates what a complete Neanderthal he is. First of all, the definition of biology is that it is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, EVOLUTION, distribution, identification and taxonomy. Biology, as the study of life and living organisms, is not static, but constantly changing. I read once that 100 species per day go extinct and that in 2011, scientists discovered nearly 20,000 new species. Obviously, biology DOES change and more importantly, the more we learn, the more our understanding of it changes.
Secondly, we can’t really “instill” gender identity in our children. We can try to get them to conform to “social expectations that may accompany a given gender role” “but this can exacerbate the disconnect transgender children feel. I have met very young children who absolutely know they weren’t born into the correct gender. The lucky ones have supportive parents who help them pave their own path. Those not so fortunate have a much tougher road to hoe, one that more often than not leads to multiple suicide attempts (if the first try doesn’t succeed.) The American Psychological Association corroborates that transgender children are more likely to experience harassment and violence in school and other group programs than other children. Transgender adults are at increased risk for stress, isolation, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and suicide. In fact, transgender people have an extremely high rate of suicide attempts, 41 percent versus a national average of 1.6 percent.
In addition, there are biological causes for the “gender dysphoria” or “gender identity disorder”(GID) many transgender people experience. “Evidence suggests that people who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth, may do so not just due to psychological or behavioral causes, but also biological ones related to their genetics, the makeup of their brains, or prenatal exposure to hormones.” Genetic variation, hormones, and difference in brain functioning and brain structures provide evidence for the biological cause of In fact, twin studies indicate GID is 62% inheritable. (NOTE: gender identity has nothing to do with sexual preference and a transgender person may or may not have had any surgeries to bring their body in “conformance” with their gender identity.)
Ever notice how if Arizona lawmakers and administrators don’t want to deal with an issue, and it doesn’t detract from the ability of one of their supporters to make profit, it becomes something that should be dealt with at the local level? Just look at Douglas’ comment on AZCentral.com that she has“full confidence that government at its least and lowest level is most answerable to constituents on these matters.” Yet time and again t found these same people have found local government is incapable of making decisions about “life-altering” matters such as the use of plastic shopping bags, the admission of guns on school property, and the rights of pet shops to sell puppy mill dogs; all of which had significant lobbyist support for state lawmaker intervention.
As with any struggle for civil rights, this one will be tumultuous. The best approach is for communities to learn about the issue and have open discussions about the way forward. It cannot though, be left to individual communities to determine the “rightness” of the equality sought. That’s why the President’s directive is important. It is a validation of the “immortal declaration” in the Declaration of Independence that states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It really is that simple.