Trans rights are human rights

The fight for transgender rights is about more than just bathrooms

On Sunday, I was one of roughly 100 people who gathered in Niagara Square to rally for transgender rights and protest President Donald Trump’s administration’s recent legislation on trans bathroom rights. It was amazing to see the outpouring support for the trans community from individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

The protest was smaller than I had hoped it would be. After the Buffalo Women’s March, I was optimistic that the thousands of folks who showed up for that event would continue to advocate for the minority groups impacted by the Trump administration, like transgender people. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

If you consider yourself an advocate for women’s rights, then it is essential to include trans women in that advocacy, because trans women deserve equal rights just as much as cisgender (non-transgender) women do.

On Feb. 22, the Trump administration sent a letter to public school districts, which revoked protections for transgender public school students that allowed them to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Last May, President Obama sent a similar letter to public school districts indicating that Title IX, which protects students from discrimination based on sex, also encompasses protections for transgender students.

Title IX protections for trans students extended beyond bathroom choice; they also covered access to locker rooms and the right to participate in sports teams that correspond with students’ gender identity.

The Trump administration purports that this shift in position is not about discrimination, but is rather a “states’ rights” issue.

Proponents of Jim Crow laws and segregation in public schools cited “states’ rights.” Anti-suffragists who opposed women’s right to vote claimed their stance was about “states’ rights.” And perhaps most famously and egregiously, slave owners claimed their right to own slaves was a “states’ rights” issue.

I do not buy the “states’ rights” argument. Ultimately, this debate comes down to trans people’s right to exist in public spaces.

“When trans people can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities — it’s about us existing in public space,” transgender actress Laverne Cox said in an MSNBC interview on Feb 23.

Some opponents of transgender bathroom rights claim that prohibiting trans individuals from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity is about protecting cisgender people from being assaulted by trans people.

“I have not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom. Those who claim otherwise have no evidence that this is true and use this notion to prey on the public's stereotypes and fears about transgender people,” Vincent Villano, director of communications for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement to the online publication Mic.

Ultimately, anti-transgender bathroom laws have nothing to do with states’ rights or protecting cis people from violence.

“Those who oppose trans people having access to the facilities consistent with how we identify know that all the things they claim don’t actually happen. It’s really about us not existing — about erasing trans people,” Cox said in her MSNBC interview.

These bills undermine trans peoples’ very humanity and right to exist. Not allowing trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity is discrimination, plain and simple.

It was never about bathrooms – just like it was never about water fountains.

Maddy Fowler is the assistant news editor and can be reached at