Transgender bathroom battles: How some parents see it

Parents of transgender children and politicians speak out as the nation wrestles with the issue of gender identity. 

Courtesy Debi Jackson
Avery Jackson, age 8, of Kansas stands outside the Capitol building in Topeka after a protest against a bill that would ban her from using the restroom of her choice.

What do parents – on both sides – say about bathroom laws that require lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to use the facilities where the symbol on the door matches their birth gender?

At times, both sides argue for the protection of children from sexual predators and emotional duress.

For example, Debi Jackson, a Kansas mother of transgender eight-year-old daughter Avery (born biologically male), says in a telephone interview, “People proposing bathroom laws say it's to protect women and little girls from predatory men.”

“The obvious danger to Avery is that these laws would force her — looking like any other 8-year-old girl — into a men's restroom alone, and potentially right into the hands of one of those very predators,” Ms. Jackson says.

Parents of transgender children, such as Mrs. Jackson, were speaking out after Thursday’s narrow defeat in the House of Representatives of a bill to prevent discrimination against government contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

But Virginia Republican State Sen. Charles W. Carrico, Sr., is a father too.

“As the father of a high school student it is appalling to me,” Senator Carrico said in a phone interview, addressing the issue broadly after sponsoring a "religious freedom" law, Senate bill SB41 which was vetoed by Gov. Terry MacAuliffe. “Where is my daughter’s Fourth Amendment rights to privacy? Where? She has none? There’s only two sexes – a male and a female. Nothing protects transgender as a sex.”

 "The LGBT community is not a protected class and therefore you cannot discriminate against them," Mr. Carrico said in defense of bathroom bills.

Carrico argues that “perverts” will take advantage of the right to choose which bathroom to use in order to gain entrance to facilities used by women and girls as sexual predators.

The current debate also highlights the emotional duress children face in schools and other public settings based on their gender choices.

Ms. Jackson’s daughter recently attended a bathroom bill protest in Kansas at the state capitol. For the first time in a long time Avery was afraid to go to the bathroom, she says.

“She’s a strong-willed girl, but in this case she was terrified because she had to go to the bathroom and she was afraid someone would recognize her as trans and hurt her in the bathroom or for trying to enter it,” Jackson says.

Avery, age 8, says in a phone interview, “I was scared, but then I decided to go where I needed to go and I was happy. I just ignored them.”

A mother in Georgia who asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter writes in response to a request for interview, “My 9 year old daughter is just like any other girl her age. She loves American Girl Dolls, all things Disney and has lots of friends. But at school when those giddy girls pile into the bathroom my daughter is not allowed and has to use a separate bathroom.”

“Every day she and all her friends are reminded that the school district does not recognize her as a girl,’ she adds. “She just wants to be herself. The district has told her that if she uses the girls bathroom she will be subjected to discipline such as loss of recess and up to a 9 day suspension. I look forward to the day when she no longer has to fight to be who she is.”

On May 13, the Obama administration issued guidelines to all public schools in the US on bathrooms and transgender students. Many transgender parents were relieved. But other parents and politicians saw the federal move as a threat and began to take legal steps. Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma filed legislation Thursday opposing the Obama administration's guidelines. 

"Oklahomans are simply not going to stand for this utter nonsense," state Rep. John Bennett (R) Bennett said in a statement. He added that the guidance is a violation of the state's sovereignty and an "attempt to use our children as pawns in a liberal agenda," The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Federal guidance is not law, and courts have not definitively said whether federal civil rights laws protect transgender people. However, schools that refuse to comply have been warned they may lose federal education money and face civil rights lawsuits from the government.

Massachusetts, where guidelines similar to those issued by federal officials on May 13 have been in place for almost five years, may offer a window on where some states - if not the nation - may be headed on this issue.

Sabrina C. (who asks that her last name be withheld in order to protect those she councils) is an early childhood educator in Massachusetts, and writes in an email response, “I care for a transgender child who socially transitioned at 5 years old. Children need to feel validated and supported in order to thrive.”

“I am grateful Massachusetts follows guidelines that support transgender youth. Children spend a better part of the week in school and it is crucial that the space be supportive,” she adds. 

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