by Ginger Williams, TransOhio
Transgender youth are under attack yet again. This time the attack comes at the local school board level.
TransOhio has received an uptick of messages from concerned parents of transgender students and trans community allies in Ohio. It seems that some recent elected school board members are aligning themselves with anti-trans organizations to stir up the electorate and incite fear.
A recent case in point is Bethel Local School District in Tipp City, Ohio, where they have a standing school policy that allows transgender students to use the restroom that best corresponds with their gender identify.
A group of people are now requesting that the policy be rescinded, claiming the policy is new and they were never asked. To ease the concerns of parents, the school district issued a well thought out Frequently Asked Questions guide regarding transgender restroom use and is sticking by its decision to accommodate trans students.
The resulting public comment period of the school board meetings became very hateful; and in February, the school board suggested a community forum that has yet to be scheduled. Part of the issue with scheduling the meeting is they cannot locate an attorney willing to take the position of the group wanting to rescind the policy.
There is, of course, Title IX and case law that supports the board of education’s position to allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
History/Culture of gender nonconformance
Gender non-conformance is nothing new. There are many examples today and throughout history of people who do not meet the western gender stereotypes. Ancient texts list eunuchs as gender nonconforming persons, who often worked as servants to nobility. In the Hebrew text the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, whose garment was described as ketonet passim, the princess dress. This story of Joseph has been brought to life by artists like Peterson Toscano and J Mase III.
There is evidence in many cultures of people who have not conformed to gender norms such as two-spirits of the First Nations. The Zapotec, an Indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico, honor people known as muxe. In the Indian subcontinent, the hijra is one of the largest populations of nonbinary people in the world.
History of bathrooms and the built environment
People need to pee.
To address sanitation issues in ancient Rome communal baths and latrines were constructed and shared for both men and women. The Victorian era brought about architectural designs for designated women’s spaces that resembled the home. In 1887, due to the influx of women working in factories and workshops, Massachusetts passed the first of its kind law that designated sex separate facilities for men and women.
The design of public restrooms has long been a contested territory for civil rights issues, and policy debates. Perhaps the most vivid restroom civil rights battle in the United States’ cultural consciousness is that of the Jim Crow era in response to separation of facilities by race. Another prominent civil rights victory impacting restroom accessibility was the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the 2010’s there were some 150 high schools and colleges that enacted policies that created all gender restrooms, most of which were single use facilities, which while positive, it also reinforces “othering” of the transgender population.
In 2016 North Carolina’s HB2 sparked national restroom use debates. This was the impetus for architects and engineers to work with trans organizations to seek solutions in the built environment and in 2019 the international building and plumbing codes were amended to indicate that all single stall facilities were available to all genders. Additionally, multi-stall all-gender facilities are allowed and are compliant with code. Cleveland State University is one of the first examples of a multi-stall all gender facility in the State of Ohio.
Gavin Grimm case
Grimm began fighting the Gloucester County School Board’s policies when he was a sophomore at a Virginia high school in 2015. As part of Grimm’s medical treatment for severe gender dysphoria, Grimm and his mother notified school administrators of his male gender identity and received permission for Grimm to use the boys’ restroom for almost two months. But once the school board began receiving complaints, it adopted a new policy denying him access to the boys’ bathrooms.
This case went to the Supreme Court who left in place a decision by lower courts that allowed a transgender student to use the bathroom that corresponded to his gender identity, a victory for the LGBTQ+ community. The case concerns the scope of Title IX that prohibits schools from discriminating “on the basis of sex” citing the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 2020 that held that federal employment law protects LGBTQ+ workers.
What can we do?
It is unfortunate that the transgender community continues to be the target of right-wing conservatives. This situation in Tipp City is another opportunity to have a conversation and educate adults that are trapped by fear of what might happen.
Transgender students and their parents must document in writing all bullying and/or discrimination that happens on school property. Email documentation to school administrators is best for record keeping.
Here are some other ideas to help make a difference for our trans siblings:
- Volunteer with organizations like GLSEN, Equality Ohio, TransOhio.
- Write to your federal representatives telling them to pass the Equality Act.
- Contact your state representatives to tell them to pass the Ohio Fairness Act.
- Research candidates that are running for office.
- Attend school board meetings.
- Run for office.
- Hold elected officials accountable for the protections that we all have worked hard to achieve.
Ginger Williams, TransOhio Board 🔥