Transgender students -- just like any other students -- should not fear going to school, much less going to the bathroom. But last week President Trump and two of his Cabinet members made the chilling decision that they don't think trans students deserve the right to feel safe and secure in their schools.
Over the last eight years, we made great strides in expanding LGBTQ rights, enabling those of us who are gay to live our lives without fear or discrimination. But these days it feels as if our gains are all crashing down and we are moving back in time. On transgender rights, as with so many other rights and freedoms he is trying to restrict, Trump has shown that he's captive to the worst instincts and divisive policies of his inner circle, and that he's a willing agent of attacks on, among other things, voting rights, women's rights, workers' rights, religious rights, and LGBTQ rights. By rescinding Obama-era federal protections for transgender children, including the protection allowing access to restrooms based on their gender identity, Trump has drawn a line in the sand and said these kids don't deserve the same rights as everyone else.
This rollback of rights is scary and downright offensive to everyone who believes in equality and freedom. As educators, we want all children to feel free to live their lives and be who they are. That is who we are. That is why we are fighting this.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has a long history of opposing civil rights, wasted no time in initiating the move to stop former President Obama's protections for transgender students. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos claims she resisted, requiring Trump to weigh in since the order had to be issued by both secretaries. Trump sided with Sessions and reportedly gave DeVos an ultimatum -- go along or resign. She went along. When the time came to protect vulnerable children, Trump and DeVos caved in to hate and bigotry. DeVos defended their action, calling the guidance a federal "overreach." The right of vulnerable children to be safe and free from discrimination is a key civil right. It's appalling that the secretary of Education -- whose boss just rhetorically asserted that children's education is a civil right -- does not understand what it takes to make that a reality.
There are approximately 350,000 transgender youth and young adults in the United States. Quashing these protections has real-life consequences for them.
The National Center for Transgender Equality found in a 2011 study -- and surely the numbers have increased since then -- that 82 percent of transgender youth felt unsafe at school; 44 percent had been punched, shoved, and otherwise abused physically; 67 percent had been bullied online; and 64 percent had their property stolen or destroyed. A study by the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law found that nearly 70 percent of transgender people said they had experienced verbal harassment in situations involving gender-segregated bathrooms. Laws that force transgender people to use bathrooms where they may look out of place can make them even more vulnerable to harassment or worse.
The American Federation of Teachers, representing 1.6 million educators, nurses, and public service workers, signed on to an amicus brief filed yesterday with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Title IX specifically protects transgender students and their right to use facilities based on their gender identity. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to right an egregious wrong and stand up for freedom and equality.
While opponents of transgender equality stoke fears around bathrooms, the reality is that allowing transgender people access to restrooms -- without fear of discrimination or harassment -- doesn't hurt anyone. An investigation of 12 states and 17 school districts with protections for LGBTQ people found no increase in incidences of harassment or inappropriate behavior after those protections were enacted.
There is rich irony in the fact that Donald Trump has sided with bigots who use unfounded fears about safety to put already vulnerable young people further at risk. Trump famously bragged that he "can do anything" he wants to women, including groping and kissing them without their consent, and there are numerous reports that he entered dressing rooms where teenage pageant contestants were undressed.
Gavin Grimm, the student who brought his suit to the Supreme Court, just wants to be treated like any other person. He deserves nothing less, and our members stand with him and every other child seeking the right to live a life free from bullying, harassment, and bigotry.
Being "different" in Trump's America is dangerous. It's up to us to do everything we can right now to protect our children -- to not simply fight bigotry and discrimination but actively and intentionally promote inclusion and diversity.
RANDI WEINGARTEN is the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Follow her on Twitter @rweingarten.