North Carolina is currently under a wildfire of controversy. The culprit? NC’s House Bill 2, formally called the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” (and most commonly referred to as the Bathroom Bill). This bill has made fast headlines as the most anti-LGBTQ legislation in the country; supporters of the bill, however, say that it’s simply common sense. Picture: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article70257552.html
The division this bill has caused has really hit home for me. Some of my family members are supporters of the bill, while others, including me, are extremely against it. I am unable to log onto my social media accounts without being totally bombarded by comments and opinions. What frightens me is the viciousness, intolerance, and inaccurate information many of these posts contain. As someone who is passionate about the issues at stake with House Bill 2, and as a future elementary educator, I feel inclined to share my own opinion in a powerful but thoughtful way.
Before I connect the bill to education, let me first provide some background information on House Bill 2 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Facilities_Privacy_%26_Security_Act). On February 22nd, 2016, the Charlotte City Council passed Ordinance 7056, an anti-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations and businesses. The ordinance was passed by a 7-4 vote and was to go into effect on April 1st.
As a result, on March 23rd, the NC House of Representatives held a special session and passed House Bill 2; three hours later, the NC Senate passed the bill, with all 11 Democrats walking out in protest and not voting. Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law that evening. House Bill 2 eliminates anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, states that in public restrooms, patrons must use the restroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate, and prohibits cities in North Carolina from passing anti-discrimination policies.
The bill caused an extreme amount of uproar from the moment it was passed. As a form of protest, companies pulled their businesses out of North Carolina (causing financial loss and job loss), musicians and actors canceled performances, and states such as New York issued travel warnings towards NC. NBC estimates that the state has lost up to $186 million due to these boycotts, with that number continuing to rise (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/19/north-carolina-anti-lgbt-law-bathroom-bill-hb2-economic-losses). Picture: http://www.wect.com/category/313471/house-bill-2
The federal government immediately recognized HB2 as a violation of human rights and gave Governor McCrory a deadline to repeal the law. The deadline passed, and on May 9th, the US Department of Justice sued Governor McCrory, the NC Department of Public Safety, and the UNC system, threatening to take away federal funding. The US Department of Justice states that HB2 violates the Civil Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina responded by filing two lawsuits against the US Department of Justice in defense of the law.
On May 13th, President Obama released a letter to all US public schools outlining various guidelines about transgender discrimination. According to the letter, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify, as well as participate in sports teams and clubs that match their gender identity. Teachers and staff members must use the student’s preferred pronouns when referring to them, and must ensure that their schools create a welcoming environment for all students (http://www.autostraddle.com/president-obama-showed-up-for-transgender-americans-in-a-big-way-today-338542/).
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education even adopted a new policy allowing high school students to carry pepper spray in defense against transgender students in the bathroom (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/north-carolina-school-system-to-allow-pepper-spray/2016/05/10/12c8e2cc-16fe-11e6-971a-dadf9ab18869_story.html).
As the controversy surrounding HB2 has grown, and everyone and their mother has chimed in about the law, I have become increasingly aware of a few key points.
- Many of the law’s supporters lack accurate information about what being transgender means and looks like, which leads directly into the next two points.
- Many supporters are perpetuating fear about the safety of women and children in public restrooms. This is commonly phrased as, “Do you want a man going into the women’s restroom where your small daughter is?” or “We need to protect our women and children against attackers!”
- Many of the supporters of the law defend their stance with Christian beliefs.
I want to more deeply address each of these key points.
- The term “transgender” is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity (the gender they know that they are inside) does not match with the sex on their birth certificate (http://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq). This sense of “not matching up” usually appears from childhood. Being a transgender person is not a mental illness or a sickness, although the concept of being a transgender person is extremely difficult for some people to understand. Here it is in easier terms: I am a woman. I know that I am a woman because I feel like a woman. If you asked me to become a man, I would not be able to, because I am a woman. Simple, right? It’s the same way for a transgender person. If someone was born with a penis but has identified as a female throughout their entire life, you cannot ask them to become a man, because they know, simple as I do, that they are a female. Being a transgender person is not crossdressing or “dressing up as the opposite sex.” It is not something that changes on a day-to-day basis. It’s not a “trick” or “experiment.” It’s not a “phase.” Many transgender people choose to take hormone regimens and/or receive sex reassignment surgeries to complete their transitions. However, not all transgender people are able to do those things (they’re extremely expensive), so it’s important to understand that being a transgender person does not depend on medical procedures. What does being transgender look like? Anyone! Because many people have an inaccurate or stereotypical image in their head, it’s important to dispel that. Watch this video to hear from a transgender person: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-transgender-people-want-you-to-know/
- Meet Jazz, a transgender child who is rallying for equality! Because of HB2, Jazz would be expected to use the men’s restroom. Watch this video to learn about her story! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbg-LdVdNk0
- This is Ines Rau, a transgender model. Pic: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/537335799265275739/
- This is Aydian Dowling, a transgender male model. Because of HB2, he would be expected to use the women’s restroom, since his birth certificate lists him as a female. Crazy, right? Pic: Brian Davis, Gay Times Getty Images
- Because of a lack of accurate information about transgender people, there is a fear going around that allowing people to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify will lead to predators coming into the wrong bathroom to attack innocent people. First of all, there are NO DOCUMENTED CASES of a transgender person attacking/assaulting/raping anyone in a bathroom. It simply has not happened. One in five US women will be raped; that statistic climbs to one in four college women. One in five girls and one in twenty boys experience childhood sexual abuse (https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics). Those are frightening statistics, but, contrary to what misinformation is being spread, transgender people are not committing any of those crimes. Second of all, there is nothing stopping a predator from entering any bathroom if he/she wants to, regardless of gender identity, so HB2 is not “protecting” anyone. In fact, the law makes life much more dangerous for members of the transgender community; they are the ones under attack. Don’t see how that is? Take a look at these (incredibly grim and saddening) statistics, and PLEASE tell me how Rowan-Salisbury’s pepper spray policy would even POSSIBLY be a good idea:
- More than 50% of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday (http://www.yspp.org/about_suicide/statistics.htm).
- 90% of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job (http://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq).
- Transgender people are four times as likely to live in poverty and experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population.
- 89% of transgender students have been verbally harassed at school. 55% report being physically harassed at school, while 28% report being physically assaulted on school grounds (http://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/Harsh%20Realities.pdf).
- In 2013, 72% of hate violence murder victims were transgender females.
- Transgender people are 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with police (http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ncavp_transhvfactsheet.pdf).
- I understand that religious and spiritual beliefs shape personal convictions. However, religion is never an appropriate excuse for discriminating against others and denying groups of people human rights and safety. Hatred and fear are taught and learned; it is crucially important to take a step back and make sure that your beliefs are not perpetuating those things. Although I am not a Christian, I was raised in a Christian household; the Bible verses that I came to apply to my life were ones that spoke of love and acceptance for all. I was taught that God created us equally, and that He loves us unconditionally. Unfortunately, the most intolerant and unaccepting posts I have seen are ones from Christians who, in my opinion, could benefit from a little Mark 12:31: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I am so thankful for my Christian friends that truly live that verse and refuse to support HB2, a law that enforces the opposite. This shouldn’t be a battle between Democrats and Republicans, Christians and non-Christians. This should be a battle for human rights for all.
As a future educator, HB2 has a great effect on me.
It is up to me what kind of classroom culture I create. Do I want to create an environment where I judge groups of people, and potentially my very own students?
You may be thinking that supporting a law like HB2 has no correlation with creating a judgmental classroom environment, but hear me out: If I don’t think transgender people should use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, I am contributing to those terrible statistics about transgender youth. If I don’t support civil rights for everyone, my natural biases are going to subtly reveal themselves in my instruction and in my conversations. Students are excellent at interpreting things and picking up on little cues, whether that be a quick eye roll, a flinch, or a look of distaste; students who do not feel safe at school are especially quick to notice. If I do not understand or accept transgender people, I am not going to be a teacher who is passionate about teaching children the truth and fighting against LGBTQ injustice.
As a teacher, it isn’t my job or my place to tell children WHAT they have to think or believe. However, it is my responsibility and duty to create a classroom that accepts each and every student, regardless of race, background, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. I want my classroom to be a safe zone. If I myself fall into the vicious fear cycle, how am I going to succeed in creating such a classroom? Bullying starts as early as preschool, so it is incredibly important to me that I establish clear expectations for my students from the very first day of school. I will not tolerate hurtful words, actions, phrases, or snickers. Each student is special and unique, and my classroom will be a haven that celebrates those characteristics.
The name of my blog is “Change Agents and Chalkboards.” The role of a change agent is not an easy one; it requires standing up for what’s right, even when everyone else is pushing against you. I want to shape my budding scholars into change agents so that they feel comfortable letting their voice be heard. This means tackling difficult conversations with open thoughtfulness, rather than shying away; if teachers never allow their students to explore controversial topics, the students will grow into misinformed adults that spew intolerance. House Bill 2 offers many teachable moments, and it’s a shame to bury them all for fear of “stirring the waters.” Picture: http://sites.jmu.edu/madisonparlor/a-feminist-perspective-on-the-madison-parlor-and-its-potential-research-projects/
I realize that having such strong opinions, especially opinions that are largely unpopular in the conservative “Bible Belt” south, might lead to me being seen as a danger- a “radical,” if you might- in the public school system. I, however, see nothing but potential: Potential to be a role model for my students, potential to be a voice for the voiceless, potential to inspire others to fight for a change. I will never “hush up and conform” because others are uncomfortable. As a future educator, it is my job to teach others- through my words, through my ways, through my passions, and through my hunger for lifelong learning. A true education is sometimes challenging and painful to swallow. The truth doesn’t always go down easy, but it’s much more nourishing than a lie.
Because when I become a teacher and I have transgender students in my classroom, I want them to know that I believe in them. I accept them. I love them. Their truths are made vulnerable in my hands, and so I will protect their truths as I protect my own. I will fight for them. I will make sure they feel safe in the bathroom they choose to use. I will make sure they’re safe on the playground, in circle time, and in the lunchroom. If they want to play a sport, I will make sure that happens, and I will be the first one on the sidelines cheering them on. I will shield them from harm and give them the chance to blossom. I will be their listening ear when their thoughts get too heavy to hold. I will be their ally, no matter what a disappointing governor or state legislature threatens to do to them. They are safe with me.
Comments? Questions? I welcome them all.
Thanks for reading,