Bathrooms, Bigotry, and Bluster

In an egregious display of ignorance, some elected officials are attacking vulnerable children for political gain. These always outraged leaders are fighting the Obama Administration’s directive to allow transgender students access to restroom facilities in public schools consistent with their gender identity. Their resistance to civil rights is contrary to constitutional values and is morally bankrupt. This fight isn’t about boys in girls’ bathrooms or girls in boys’ locker rooms. This debate is about safeguarding fundamental human rights and the dignity of transgender Georgians. Public schools must protect the safety of all children, especially the most vulnerable among them.

Some leaders are calling for a legal challenge to the directive– a fool’s errand. The law is clearly not on the side of these Georgia legislators fighting transgender rights. Georgia has been down this road before.  In 2005, Vandy Beth Glenn started working in the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel. In 2007, Glenn transitioned from male to female after being diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. Before transitioning, Glenn told her supervisor of her plan to transition from male to female. The head of the Glenn’s office summarily fired her. Glenn’s boss said he terminated her employment because “other women might object to Glenn’s restroom use.”

Glenn sued and alleged that the state violated the Equal Protection Clause because the General Assembly engaged in sex discrimination by gender stereotyping. In 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the General Assembly’s actions constituted unlawful sex discrimination. The Court emphasized that the Constitution’s safeguards against sex discrimination include persons who are gender non-conforming. Georgia lost that battle. And now members of the General Assembly are pressing to litigate the issue again to score cheap points at the schoolhouse door.

If the Eleventh Circuit opinion wasn’t sufficient to convince legislators of the folly of their anti-civil rights attacks, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a transgender boy to challenge his school board’s policy that kept him from using the bathroom consistent with his gender identity. What of bathroom safety? The court, ruling earlier this year, rejected the argument that his “use of the boys’ restroom create[d] a safety issue.”

Contrary to the venomous misinformation local politicians are divulging to the public, there is no security or privacy threat to anyone by protecting transgender people. Judges aren’t the only ones rejecting the bogus safety rationale. Indeed, 250 advocates for sexual assault victims recently joined a statement to that effect. “As rape crisis centers, shelters, and other service providers who work each and every day to meet the needs of all survivors and reduce sexual assault and domestic violence throughout society, we speak from experience and expertise when we state that these claims are false,” the statement read.

And now, not only are legislators pushing back against the rights of children, but parents are joining the fight in local school districts. In Fannin County, for example, parents are resisting any measure to protect the human dignity of a handful of children. The school’s resource officer, charged with the solemn responsibility of protecting the school, stoked much of this resistance— and has gone as far as calling LGBT children “perverts” in their presence at a public meeting.

A man entrusted with the police power of the state is unabashedly displaying his animus towards LGBT kids who are significantly more vulnerable to suffer from depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. If that doesn’t send a chill down your spine, it should. Georgia’s politicians are quick to cry over so-called federal overreach but have shamefully little to say for kids suffering from bigotry and bullying.

While this rhetoric will harm children, let us not forget that teachers and staff must also endure these indignities. One gay Fannin County teacher told me he’s leaving the district at the end of the year because he doesn’t “feel welcomed or comfortable at all” and is particularly “frightened that the student resource office” is “openly discriminating” against LGBT people. This entire display is an abomination that undermines the integrity of our public schools.

There are no examples— none— of how protecting vulnerable children undermine the well-being of other children. Without any plausible objection remaining to allow transgender persons to use the facilities that correspond with their gender identity, the only reason to oppose the Obama Administration’s action is the bare desire to harm children and the LGBT community. Opponents have been abundantly clear over the course of the last three years that they do not like LGBT Georgians and oppose any effort to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

Cloistered in gerrymandered districts, legislative leaders seem to take joy in resisting civil rights and tearing down Georgia’s reputation along with the rest of the South. It is a sad display of grandstanding that harms real people— that undermines the welfare of children. We must not go down the path of state-sanctioned discrimination like North Carolina. It is time for Georgia to acknowledge that people must be free to be who they are, whether they live in Columbus, work in Atlanta, or attend school in Blue Ridge.

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