In the wake of the recent (more than two weeks ago now) actions by the Trump administration regarding transgender rights, I was asked to use this forum to comment on what happened. It was suggested that I have a voice in the community that might make a difference, however small. I have my doubts about that. I suspect that the only ones who read my work are people who already support transgender rights and tend to disagree with many of the stances taken by Trump and his advisers. Nevertheless, here goes nothing. 🙂
As an aside, I’ll state up front that the United States is NOT my country of birth or residence. For the record, I’m Canadian. Some people might suggest that should I mind my own (Canadian) business and keep my nose out of American politics. To that, I say not a chance. However diminished, the US is still the most significant country in the world and what their government does affects us all. We Canadians are particularly affected by and attuned to American actions. As Pierre Trudeau (a former Prime Minister and father of our current PM) once said: “Living next to [the US] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast… one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Well, Trump is doing a whole bunch of twitching and grunting, so I’m gonna stick my nose in.
The Obama administration long held the view that discrimination on the basis of gender identity should be prohibited. Needless to say, a Congress hostile to Obama and his politics (regardless of whatever merit they might have had) meant that he could pass no laws to prohibit such discrimination. Last May, the administration issued a letter of guidance (the so-called “Dear Colleague” letter) to educational institutions across the country. In essence, it stated that schools should respect the choice a student makes as to what gender he or she feels best reflects who they are on the inside. There was more to the letter than bathroom access, of course, but that’s what got all the media attention. This guidance was meant to replace a mishmash of state laws and policies that respected students’ rights and choices in some jurisdictions and not in others.
In February of this year, the Trump ‘administration’ (I use the word loosely) explicitly withdrew the federal letter of guidance. Their stated reasoning (if you can call it that) was that gender discrimination should be a state-level issue. Last year on the campaign trail, Trump proclaimed that the federal government should take no position on discrimination against transgender students, and his own letter on the subject trumpeted his belief that states and local school districts should be able to set their own education policy. All of which is, of course, total bullshit.
Would Trump argue that the federal government should take no position on discrimination against students on the basis of race? He might like to do that but there’s no way even he would dare. So what makes it somehow acceptable to discriminate on the basis of one physical attribute but not another? No way. Discrimination on any basis is unacceptable.
As for the state-level argument—that’s the weapon too many politicos reach for when they want to undermine a federal ruling they happen to dislike. For example, if the Republicans ever managed to pass a federal law to make abortion access illegal, you can bet they wouldn’t be screaming to kick that law back to the state level. They know, and Trump knows, that allowing the states to make their own laws about gender discrimination means that some students will be discriminated against, some will be harassed (physically or verbally), and some will be hurt (physically or emotionally). They know this, but they surely don’t care.
Why don’t they care? Most Republicans, I believe (and hope), do not carry a specific grudge against transgender students, or against transgender people in general. They simply don’t see that the issue has anything to do with them. Coming out against transgender rights is simply an easy way to score political points with a certain segment of the voting public. Unfortunately, beating up on a disadvantaged minority has always been an easy—if cowardly—route to populist popularity (alas, the list of past targets is quite long). In today’s world, it has become increasingly unacceptable to discriminate against any minority. Gender identity is only the latest in a long line of barriers to the full acceptance of a human being regardless of who they are, where they come from or what their beliefs happen to be.
The bottom line here is that it’s all about respect. The Obama administration chose to respect the human rights of transgender students, while Trump and the Republican party chose to do the opposite—for reasons of crass political opportunism. And that was wrong.
P.S. If anyone is desperate to see (or re-post somewhere) an image-file version of the satirical caption from the above PDF, it’s right here. I didn’t place it in full view to avoid distracting readers from the text of the post.