Transgender Rights Argument Erupts at Missouri High School

Transgender student Lila Perry

Hillsboro Senior Lila Perry

The right of a transgender student to use the restroom of the gender she identifies with is being disputed by members of the local community at Hillboro High School in Missouri. Lila Perry, a senior at Hillsboro High, came out as transgender last year. Since that time, she had been using a unisex restroom. Since Perry identifies as a female, she informed school teachers and administrators this year that she desired to be treated like the other female students, which included access to female restrooms and locker rooms.

“I wasn’t hurting anyone and I didn’t want to feel segregated out. I didn’t want to be in the gender neutral bathroom. I am girl, I shouldn’t be pushed off to another bathroom,” said Perry.

To their credit, the school administration has been supportive of Perry, allowing her to use the facilities used by other women. But many others in the community have not been so supportive. More than 150 students staged a walkout yesterday, the majority protesting the administrations move to allow Perry to use the female restrooms and other facilities.

And its not just the students who oppose this issue who are weighing in. Last Thursday’s school board meeting had so many attendees that it had to be moved to the gymnasium. And in rural Hillsboro, topics like transgender rights are not provided much community support. The school administration is being put in a tough position here, faced with doing the right and legal thing versus buckling to parental and community pressure. But the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has been pretty clear on this issue: Transgender students have a right to live in accordance with their internal gender identity. This is essential to a person’s psychological well-being.

The issue of whether or not transgender people have the right to use the restrooms of the gender they identify with is becoming an increasingly common and heated debate, and this case is just one of many like in recent years. Many of the arguments against extending rights to trans people are out of ignorance. And still some are out of good old fashioned bigotry. So let’s look at some of the comments those that oppose allowing Lila to use the restrooms consistent with her gender identity are making.

“I’m not comfortable with it. There is nothing wrong with being different. But when you are different, there are sacrifices.”

Discrimination is not allowed just because doing otherwise makes people uncomfortable. There is always discomfort when social progress is made. There were many people who were uncomfortable when schools were desegregated. There are plenty of people currently serving in the US military who are uncomfortable with the DoD allowing gay and lesbian Soldiers to serve openly, or ending the combat exclusion ban against female service members. But progress leads to greater exposure and understanding, which in turn helps to alleviate the discomfort.

“This needs to stop before it goes too far. I’m not trying to be ignorant, but (the transgender student) is bringing it out in public for everybody else to deal with.”

Unfortunately, ignorant people are rarely trying to be ignorant. Perry is asking to be allowed to live in accordance with her gender identity, just like everyone else. The only reason this is “out in the public for everyone else to deal with” is because ignorant people are making a stink about it.

“Boys needs to have their own locker room. Girls need to have their own locker room and if somebody has mixed feelings where they are, they need to have their own also.”

When we talk about “boys” or “girls,” we are in almost all cases talking about gender, as opposed to biological sex. Gender refers to the socially constructed norms for appearance and behavior, normally based on a person’s biological sex. But they are two different things. The reason we’re talking about gender here and not sex is because there is no “genital inspection” going on before students are allowed to use certain restrooms. People use the restrooms which correspond to their gender identity. And it would be illegal to require transgender individuals to use some segregated restroom apart from everyone else. In 2002, a Minnesota federal appeals court ruled that transgender individuals are not required to accommodate everyone else by singling themselves out in this way.

This issue is far from over in Hillsboro, I think. And it will almost certainly continue to arise in other schools across the country. But the only way to change ignorance and bigotry is continued exposure and discussion.

Lila Perry would be a brave individual anywhere else in the country. But in Hillsboro, even more so.

Photo via KMOV.

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