Out of the seven-hour school day in my Louisville, Kentucky high school, I spend an average of two minutes in the restroom. That's it. Business as usual. No one bats an eye.
Just an hour away in Frankfort, Kentucky, my business and the business of every other transgender student attending a public school in Kentucky is not as usual. In fact, it's under scrutiny by a drafted bill in the Kentucky Legislature titled the Kentucky Student Privacy Act.
The Kentucky Student Privacy Act, as proposed by Kentucky State Sen. C.B. Embry, would deny access to restrooms, locker rooms and other gender-specific spaces to students who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. The act also suggests "compromises" with transgender students who fit these circumstances. In this case, the transgender student would have to use a unisex facility, which many schools do not have, or use the faculty restrooms.
To give a student perspective on this situation: The only private restroom space in my own school building is set away from general classroom areas and separated by two floors from most of my classes. The two minutes I take out of changing classes or instructional time for going about my business would turn into a longer period, taking a chunk out of my academic and social time. And along with that -- it would create embarrassment and less affirmation for my gender. While assigned female at birth, I identify as male, express this identity and go along with my day as any other guy. The prospect of having to go out of the way to take special action due to private anatomy (hence the word "private") is segregation.
The Kentucky Student Privacy Act creates another problem, even a witch-hunt of sorts. The bill states in Section 3, #4 (a): A student encountering a person of the opposite biological sex shall have a private cause of action against the school if school personnel:
1. Gave the person encountered permission to use facilities of the opposite biological sex; or
2. Failed to take reasonable steps to prohibit the person encountered from using facilities designated for use by the opposite biological sex.
Along with these stipulations, the student who encountered the transgender individual could take their case to a local circuit court and receive $2500 of so-called "compensation" from the school "for all psychological, emotional and physical harm suffered" (Section 2, #3 [b]) as quoted in Sen. Embry's bill.
Now, when I and many other out transgender individuals use the restroom, we are there to take care of our business wherever we deem comfortable for our identities and expression. We're just like everyone else. And to be honest, I want to be out of the restroom as soon as I can to continue my school day and to avoid any problems with the few transphobic individuals in school who may know my history and ask intrusive questions. (Unfortunately, that has happened.)
As long as private stalls are available, absolutely no one should suffer from "harm" in the presence of a transgender person unless the person creates a threatening or harmful situation for the other people in the facility. That's bullying, and can come from anyone of any identity. As well as this, one would have to take some pretty inappropriate measures in order to figure out if the person using the restroom is in fact transgender. That's that.
But why was the compensational aspect introduced? That's where the witch-hunt analogy is brought into play. Misinformed and/or transphobic students who encounter a person who they have heard is transgender could easily cook up a plot for receiving their "rightful compensation," as proposed in Sen. Embry's bill.
It's one thing for a school to offer private facilities for students who identify as gender-neutral or are not comfortable using male- or female-designated facilities because of their gender identity -- but to force all transgender students to do so is, in fact, a definite breach in privacy for students wishing to remain stealth and affirmed in their identity. So much for an act with the word "privacy" plastered on it.
On a positive note, several schools and governments around the nation (and the world, for that matter) have adopted a number of policies to allow transgender students to use the restrooms, locker rooms and even join sports teams that correspond with their gender identities, not their sex assigned at birth. And so far, in light of California's "School Success and Opportunity Act," affected in January 2014, problems of "embarrassment, shame and psychological injury to students" have yet to be reported with regards to transgender students using these facilities, unlike the outcomes predicted in Sen. Embry's proposed bill. We have a lot of catching up to do.
Thanks to the marginalization of and lack of education about transgender individuals (as shown by the proposed bill), as well as sensationalized media headlines that loom around transgender topics, it's tough to feel at ease. As a transgender teen who has risked losing friends and others close to me, struggled with "passing" and even struggled with the transition to use the facilities in accordance with my identity without worry or question, I want to feel equal to my peers. And I sure don't wish to have my authenticity judged through government measures.
Because of this, I wish to continue standing alongside anyone who is or may be subjected to injustice of this kind from their own school systems or government. To lend even more help, Kentucky has many groups that advocate for LGBT+ identified students through educating the public and lobbying for positive government action. These include Fairness Campaign, GLSEN's Bluegrass chapter and the ACLU of Kentucky. From my own work with GLSEN and the connections I've built with these groups, I am assured that these groups will not halt efforts until justice and fair treatment is ensured for all.
So, my statement to Sen. C.B. Embry and to those in support of the proposed bill? The only "declaration of emergency" here is that laws to segregate transgender students are taking precedence over respectful and enumerated policies that would truly keep LGBT+ youth safe and welcome in the school environment. And lastly: How we go about our business is none of yours.