Letter: Policy cannot and should not be dictated by fear

To the Editor:

There has been a lot of discussion over the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth policy proposed by Mr. Kapoor. Many parents have especially expressed great fear over the potential consequences of allowing trans youth to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. To quote one parent in town, “Boys don’t belong in the girls bathroom. I don’t care what sex they claim to be.”

These words are rooted in fear – fear of the unknown, fear for the safety of a child, fear of change. But policy cannot and should not be dictated by fear. Rather, policy must examine only the empirical facts available to determine whether the intended outcome will be a benefit or a harm to those whose daily lives will be affected.

Fortunately, when it comes to the question of allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, we have that evidence available. In 2018, the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law released a first of its kind study titled: Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Laws in Public Accommodations: a Review of Evidence Regarding Safety and Privacy in Public Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Rooms.

This study compared towns in Massachusetts prior to the 2016 passage of a statewide nondiscrimination law that protects transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations. Researchers compared those towns with transgender-inclusive public accommodation laws to those without. They examined police reports of assault and privacy violations both before and after the laws came into effect. The study showed that allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity had no effect on the incidence of assault or privacy violations. The lead author of the study, Amira Hasenbush, said:

“Opponents of public accommodations laws that include gender identity protections often claim that the laws leave women and children vulnerable to attack in public restrooms, but this study provides evidence that these incidents are rare and unrelated to the laws.”

Of course, right now in Virginia there is a tragic case in which two girls were assaulted by a student who identifies as gender-fluid. Many parents are pointing to this case as evidence that this policy could open a floodgate of potential danger. It is extremely important to examine all the facts of this case, particularly that both assaults took place before passage of gender inclusive policy. Even if this anecdotal evidence were enough to base a policy on, the facts of the case tell us that a gender exclusive policy did nothing to prevent this crime.

What is equally important to examine is the effect of gender exclusive policies on transgender people. The American Medical Association fully endorses gender inclusive policy, stating in a briefing in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:

“ Denying transgender students this access endangers their health, safety and well-being, leads to negative health outcomes and heightens stigma and discrimination”

The evidence of harm that gender exclusive policy has on transgender individuals is abundant and clear. The AMA brief further states:

“Exclusionary policies require transgender individuals to live one facet of their lives in contradiction with their gender identity. Such policies threaten to exacerbate the risk of anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, engaging in self-injurious behaviors, suicide, substance use, homelessness and eating disorders, among other adverse outcomes”

We simply cannot allow emotions to cloud our judgment on this. We must consider all the evidence that is available to us in this age of unlimited information at our fingertips and sort fact from fear. To burden a group in which the attempted suicide rate is nine times higher than the U.S. general population with discrimination based on unfounded fear is not only cruel, it is unethical.

Julia Tolstrup


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