My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
What do you do if you are a transgender kid in Wisconsin attending a public school and you need to use the restroom or change in a locker room? In the world of binary bathrooms — male or female — which one do you go into?
State Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, will begin circulating a bill in the next few weeks to try to answer these questions for Wisconsin’s public schools. It’s prompted by the different approaches that some school districts are taking with policies regarding transgendered people now.
Whenever looking at an issue like this, it is worth trying to assess the scope of the problem. According to the Social Security Administration, 135,367 people have changed their name to that of another gender wince it was formed in 1936. Of those, 30,006 have medically changed their sex accordingly. In another view, according to the 2010 census, 89,667 people currently living in America changed their names to another gender and 21,833 people medically changed their sex to match. Given the population of the United States, the transgendered population is something like 0.03 percent of our community. There are more people with albinism in America than there are transgendered people. Needless to say, transgendered people are exceedingly rare.
Still, part of the rule of law is that we protect individual liberties irrespective of whether a person is a member of a majority or minority. In this case, however, there are not any individual liberties being threatened. But there are some individual and social sensibilities to consider.
Not to be too graphic, but the reason that we segregate bathrooms and locker rooms by gender is that most people are uncomfortable exposing their genitals or engaging in routine bodily functions in front of members of another gender. In fact, most kids are equally uncomfortable with exposing themselves in front of members of their own gender. But there is not a right to be comfortable at all times.
In the case of a transgendered person, a boy who identifies as a girl might feel more comfortable in the girls’ locker room. At the same time, the other girls in that locker room who also identify as girls may feel uncomfortable with someone who is anatomically indistinguishable from a boy sharing the locker room. Why is the transgender kid’s comfort more important than those around him (or her, if you prefer)?
All of this puts school districts into a quandary. They are tasked with creating and maintaining an environment where kids feel safe to learn. Short of individual unisex bathrooms and locker rooms, how should a school district respond to transgender kids who adamantly oppose sharing a bathroom or locker room with a member of their biological gender? And in our litigious culture, is there any decision that a school district can make that will ward off an expensive lawsuit? Probably not.
That is exactly the problem Kremer wants to eliminate. By passing uniform state standards on the treatment of transgender kids, it takes the onus off of local school districts to create their own standards and moves it to the state where the Department of Justice would be tasked with the duty expense of defending the standards from lawsuits.
Kremer’s bill is quite simple. It says that a school must provide reasonable accommodation for kids who identify as something other than their biological gender. By doing so, it prohibits school districts from forcing transgender kids into an uncomfortable environment, but also does not force a school district to permit a boy who identifies as a girl to congregate in the girls’ locker room. Kremer’s bill is a good middle ground that meets the needs of accommodating a transgender kid while still protecting the sensibilities of non-transgender (gender?) kids.
It is a virtual certainty that the transgendered community is going to pursue any perceived transgressions of their sensibilities through the court system. Kremer’s bill would help save the taxpayers from having to litigate that battle in every district and, instead, allow the issue to be settled in a statewide venue.