Fall Editorial Board 2016
On March 23, North Carolina signed into law HB2, a bill that mandates people only use restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate.
The bill drew strong criticism.
Many companies, such as Apple, PayPal, IBM, American Airlines and many others, have denounced the law. Boycotts and protests have ensued.
Supporters of the bill point out people can get their sex changed on their birth certificate to lawfully use the restroom that corresponds with their identity, but this isn’t as easy as it seems.
North Carolina requires proof of sex reassignment operations to qualify for such a change.
Such procedures may be impossible to afford for those with a lower income.
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In April, the Oxford, Alabama, City Council passed an ordinance punishing people who choose a restroom that doesn’t correspond to their biological sex at birth with a fine of $500 or six months in jail.
About a week later, the same City Council rescinded the ordinance, fearing the law would conflict with Title IX provisions.
In response to laws such as these, the Obama Administration issued a letter that contains guidelines directing federally funded schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom of the gender they identify themselves with.
“This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
We believe the Obama Administration guidance should be followed so the lives of transgender people aren’t dehumanized by antiquated conceptions of gender.
Though it only applies to schools receiving federal funding, it is still an important step to take in this latest frontier of civil rights advocacy.
The White House argues that laws like the ones passed in Oxford and North Carolina threaten to discriminate against people on the basis of their sex, which is expressly prohibited by Title IX. It states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Some opponents of the guidance argue a person’s sex can be defined based solely on the presence of certain genitalia, allowing people to be neatly categorized into traditional conceptions of male and female.
Apart from the obvious holes in this line of thinking, such as the existence of people with genitalia associated with male and female or neither, this paradigm is not well established by anything other than tradition itself.
The physical presence of male or female genitalia should be considered a component of sex, not the defining factor.
A similar position is argued in the suit filed by the Justice Department against North Carolina, “An individual’s ‘sex’ consists of multiple factors ... among those factors are hormones, external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, chromosomes and gender identity.”
Some people are worried about grown men being able to use the same restroom as young girls.
Prohibiting trans people from using the restroom of their choice does not alleviate this issue because with such laws, already sexually reassigned people with changed birth certificates would be forced to use the restroom of their birth sex.
This essentially means transgender men, with male genitalia, would be forced to use the same restroom as women.
Transgender people already deal with a mountain of social stigma. Students have been bullied and harassed, leading sometimes to depression and even suicide.
Allowing students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity is a matter of respect to their humanity.
It protects their ability to live their life regardless of the arbitrary designations other people may try to impose on them.
It grants them the common humanity we all expect.
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