Although we can't know the numbers accurately, recently in The New York Times Jan Hoffman reported that estimates are that about 1 to 1.5 percent of the population is transgender. And yet we are witnessing a tsunami of protest and counter-protest against the North Carolina legislation signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on March 23 (HB2) that among other affronts to LGBT citizens, requires people to use gender-segregated multi-stall bathrooms that match the sex assigned on their birth certificates at state agencies, schools and universities.
So why such a brouhaha about just 1 percent of the population? Because it is not just about the 1 percent but about all of us, just as desegregation of bathrooms over a half century ago was not just for black people, but for all citizens who were being asked to live in a more racially just world, in accordance with American principles of democracy and equality.
Would we want to have stopped black people from using any bathroom that matched their gender or any bathroom that a white person used until all white people felt comfortable with that? I don't think so, because if we did, segregation laws would still be in place in 2016.
Instead, we need to offer help to anyone who feels uncomfortable with a transgender person in their bathroom, and it is to them that we can offer separate single-cell bathroom choices until they work through their anxieties and learn that transgender people are just like anyone else--they want to use the bathroom to relieve themselves-- that's it.
To allow a person, either big or little, to use the bathroom that matches the gender they know themselves to be, not the one anyone else says they must be, is to educate all of us that gender comes not just in two packages, determined at birth, but in many, and it not for us to tell, but for the individual to say, what their gender is. Anything short of that leaves us in a short-sighted, uninformed world driven by fear and prejudice rather than understanding and compassion.
Regarding bathroom use based on self-identified gender, not the sex assignment determined by a doctor many years ago, to quote one of our past presidents, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And to quote our present president, "When it comes to respecting the equal rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, whether they're transgender or gay or lesbian -- although I respect their different viewpoints -- I think it's very important for us not to send signals that anybody is treated differently." Hear, hear.
But what we haven't talked about enough is how HB2 hits our youngest citizens the hardest--that would be our transgender children and their non-transgender peers. Little children are suggestible to society's attitudes about them or about others. In passing and insisting on enforcing Bill HB2, the policy makers of North Carolina are guilty of creating great harm and suffering for transgender children who are just trying to wend their way through a school day free to be who they are, while simultaneously instilling bigotry, fear, and misunderstanding among their non-transgender peers who until taught by their elders to hate, will not.
President Obama has put out a call echoing the one that I myself have scripted in my recently released book, The Gender Creative Child: "I can think of nothing better as my small contribution to making the world a better place than to create a more gender-accepting world and open the path for more happy children and adults." Let's make sure we all stay on that path. We owe it to our children.