A couple weeks ago I was on edge, waiting to hear news from South Dakota. The Governor was hours away from deciding whether he would sign a bill that would discriminate against transgender students in the state, requiring them to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on the sex listed on their birth certificate, instead of facilities consistent with their gender identity.
Governor Daugaard, listening to pleas from organizations like the National Education Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as transgender youth themselves, ultimately made the right decision and vetoed this terrible legislation. I was relieved that this bigoted bill was defeated and students there would be able to attend school without fear of being bullied or assaulted by their peers. As South Dakota joined Virginia and Washington in defeating these bills, I thought things would be okay.
That relief hasn’t lasted long.
Anti-trans legislation is spreading
In Tennessee, the state Senate is advancing similar legislation, and Kansas is considering a bill that would not only ban trans students from using the correct facilities, it would also entitle cisgender (people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) students to sue their schools if a transgender student is in a bathroom at the same time as them, essentially creating a witch hunt among students. Nine other states are also considering these so called “bathroom bills,” but until last week no state had embedded this discrimination into law.
Last week, North Carolina’s Governor signed a bill into law that not only discriminates against transgender people, but also prevents cities and towns from creating and enforcing their own anti-discrimination laws. The bill was introduced in a special session (the first in North Carolina in 35 years) and passed in just 10 hours. Lawmakers passed the bill in response to a recent city ordinance in Charlotte that prohibited discrimination against LGBTQ people and ensured transgender people were allowed to use public restrooms that corresponded with their identities.
Let’s be clear here: There is no evidence cisgender people have ever been assaulted by trans people in bathrooms. Not one single documented case. Ever. On the other hand, using a public restroom is a cause for deep anxiety for many trans people, as they know they could easily be harassed – or even killed. Just this week, a trans woman was sexually assaulted in a restroom at the historic Stonewall Inn in New York city. In recent years, there were at least two other publicly reported attacks on transgender women in bathrooms as well. Not to mention that for gender non-conforming and non-binary people, using any gendered public bathroom can be a stressful and demoralizing decision. One student testifying against a similar bill in Wisconsin said “The last time I was forced to use my biological gendered bathroom, I had several panic attacks and felt dysphoric for the rest of the day.”
These bills protect no one
These politicians claim that by bullying students and endangering the lives of LGBT people, they are “protecting women and children.” If that line sounds familiar – it’s because it is. It’s also a line politicians use to justify restricting access to abortion – that they are simply looking out for our best interests. It should come as no surprise to find out that the same people who want to take away bodily autonomy from transgender people – would also like to strip those seeking an abortion of their bodily autonomy as well.
Take Virginia. Not only did politicians introduce a bill this year that would have required teachers to police trans students’ bathroom usage, many of the same lawmakers are bent on restricting reproductive health including a bill that, if passed, would define life as beginning at conception, effectively banning abortion. Many of the same lawmakers who helped pass the North Carolina anti-LGBT law also passed requirement that doctors submit ultrasounds to state officials if they perform an abortion after the 16th week of pregnancy. Tennessee politicians, who are sponsoring the anti-trans bill advancing through the state Senate, also co-sponsored a bill that requires a 48 hour waiting period before a person can have an abortion procedure.
The list goes on.
This isn’t a coincidence. All of these laws, whether they are restricting access to a bathroom or a clinic, are about controlling our bodies, and the decisions we make about them.
This is why the fight for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy must include and protect trans people.
Fighting these bills is an issue of reproductive justice
While the legislation being proposed in states varies, many rely on restricting access to bathrooms based on a person’s birth certificate. In most states, proof of surgery is required to change a person’s gender marker on a birth certificate. It’s an outdated and cruel standard that does not reflect the broad spectrum of identities and desires amongst trans people. Many people do not want to undergo surgery, and it shouldn’t be a requirement for a person to live authentically. No one should be forced to undergo a surgery in order to simply use the bathroom. Being in control of decisions over your body is an issue of reproductive justice.
Many of these bills specifically target transgender students in public schools and threaten their safety and well-being by forcing them to use facilities inconsistent with their identities and pitting other students against them. These bills threaten families’ abilities to keep their children safe and healthy, and encourage a culture of fear, misunderstanding, and violence towards transgender students. Seventy-eight percent of trans students k-12 have experienced harassment by students, teachers, or staff. Forty-five percent of transgender people aged 18-24 have attempted suicide. These numbers are astronomical. While these bills are being considered and passed, trans children and their families are not safe. Being able to raise your family to be healthy, without fear that they will be purposefully harmed, killed, or harassed to the point of suicide is an issue of reproductive justice.
These politicians will stop at nothing to restrict our bodies, whether that body is trans, queer, disabled, of color – or anything else. Reproductive justice is making sure that all those bodies are safe.
I refuse to let the rhetoric of a few hateful politicians dictate my safety, the safety of my loved ones, and of strangers across this country, whether that means making sure we all have access to the abortion clinic or access to the bathroom.