On Wednesday, Donald Trump's administration withdrew federal guidelines to public schools which allowed transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. This is a decision that could prove to be life-threatening for trans people, who — in addition to being at increased risk of hate crimes — are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general public.
Trans youth face more harassment, violence, and discrimination than their cisgender classmates, and respecting their freedom to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender is one step in promoting their physical safety and mental well-being. However, the fight for trans rights has never been easy, and many of the most vocal critics against trans bathroom protections have argued that allowing trans people to use to the restroom that matches their gender puts cisgender children — and others — at risk.
That's a myth.
Trans people aren't a danger to children or anyone else — and the numbers prove it.
In the forthcoming book, You're In The Wrong Bathroom (May 30, 2017; Beacon Press), authors Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, MA, a psychiatrist, and Laura A. Jacobs, LCSW-R, a trans and genderqueer-identified psychotherapist, break down 21 myths and misconceptions about transgender and gender non-comforting people. In the section of the book excerpted below, they unpack the myth of trans people as a danger to children. Read their argument, and order the book now.
Myth 12: Trans People Are a Danger to Others, Especially Children
Beliefs circulate through American culture that trans people are a threat to others — children, adolescents, women, and even sometimes adult men —usually due to misconceptions about trans people as sexual predators.
Even those who do not view trans people as sexually exploitative often insist that public visibility of those with non-heteronormative genders and sexualities encourages others to enter nontraditional lifestyles.
Whether as predatory vampires or harmful role models, transgender people have been demonized as threats, and many people believe that greater acceptance provides us greater opportunity to infect others. They would have us return to the closets, removed from public view, marginalized and out of contact with the general population. Often afraid of change, or rejecting that which they do not understand, they intolerantly spread myths to discredit our identities and diminish our visibility.
Whether as predatory vampires or harmful role models, transgender people have been demonized as threats, and many people believe that greater acceptance provides us greater opportunity to infect others. They would have us return to the closets, removed from public view, marginalized and out of contact with the general population.
There have been numerous attempts to legislate trans people’s restroom use based on allegations that we are sexually exploitative. These laws are framed not as infringements on the rights of transgender people but as “protection” for women, children, and others. Those in favor of “bathroom bills” argue that trans people are more likely than others to perpetrate physical or sexual violence, or to spy on their neighbors while using the restroom. There is little discussion of the burden imposed on transgender and gender-nonconforming people when they are forced to use bathrooms inconsistent with their genders.
In fact, as of 2015, there had been no recorded incidents of anyone trans or gender nonconforming being arrested for sexual misconduct in a bathroom within the United States ever, and trans people are far more likely to be the victim in such settings. Up to 70% of transgender people report having been denied access to restrooms, harassed while using restrooms, or even physically assaulted.
...as of 2015, there had been no recorded incidents of anyone trans or gender nonconforming being arrested for sexual misconduct in a bathroom within the United States ever, and trans people are far more likely to be the victim in such settings.
Bathroom laws are perhaps the most publicized instances of transgender discrimination, but beliefs about trans people as sexual predators also lead to many other types of bigotry. When she transitioned in 2011, Marla Krolikowski, a high school teacher who had worked at the same school in Queens, New York, for thirty-two years, was fired. She reported being told by school officials she was “worse than gay.” In a student-led movement, nearly six thousand people signed a petition in support of her reinstatement. In 2008, a trans man named Jan Buterman was fired from the Catholic school in Edmonton, Canada, where he taught. Though Canadian law supports the rights of transgender people, the school district spent over $367,000 in taxpayer dollars over the period from 2008 to 2016 to fight Buterman in court.
Transgender people have not only traditionally been suspect when working in schools but also in their own homes with their own children. There have been numerous cases of transgender people losing custody or visitation rights simply for being trans. In a well-known 1982 case, an Ohio court terminated visitation rights for a trans woman named Joni Christian when she transitioned. The psychiatrist called to testify felt that Christian’s status as a transgender person would have a “sociopathic effect” on her children. The court stated that Christian “presented no evidence that [s]he was compelled by some mental imbalance to opt for a change in [her] sex” and asked, “Was [her] sex change simply an indulgence of some fantasy?” concluding that “the two minor children are in harm’s way.” In 2007, a Washington State court granted custody to the other parent when a transgender woman named Robbie Magnuson admitted that she was going to be having gender-affirming surgery. According to the court, “[Her] surgery may be everything [she] has hoped for, or it may be disastrous. No one knows what is ahead[,] and [t]he impact of gender reassignment surgery on the children is unknown.” Also in 2007, in Nevada, a trans woman named Suzanne Daly lost her parental rights when she transitioned. The court blamed her, stating that “Suzanne, in a very real sense, has terminated her own parental rights as a father.”
Transgender people are often treated similarly harshly in adoption cases. Only a handful of states have policies protecting against discrimination in adoption or fostering based on gender identity, allowing adoption agencies in most states to discriminate as they wish. Prior to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, a number of transgender people had their adoptions challenged when the other parent claimed that the marriage was invalid. In 2004, a trans man named Michael Kantaras who was living in Florida formally adopted his child after his wife gave birth. When the couple divorced, Kantaras’s wife argued that their marriage was invalid because it had been a “same-sex” marriage and that the adoption was void because Florida had a ban on adoption by gay people. The court stated that gender was “determined at birth” and that the marriage was therefore not valid; Kantaras was, for a while, stripped of his parental rights. Facing further appeals, the couple independently settled in 2005 for joint custody.
The decisions in these cases often contradict significant evidence that transgender people can make wonderful, loving parents. According to a review of research on transgender parents published by the Williams Institute in 2014, between one-quarter and one-half of transgender people report parenting children. Studies of youth with transgender parents have shown no differences in developmental milestones compared to children of cisgender parents. And while some people have concerns about the impact of having a transgender parent on children’s gender identity and sexual orientation, studies have shown that parents’ gender identity does not affect their child’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
The decisions in these cases often contradict significant evidence that transgender people can make wonderful, loving parents.
Some cities are beginning to recognize the positive impact that out LGBTQ+ people can have on youth. In 2013, New York City started an ad campaign to recruit LGBTQ+ people as foster parents. One billboard showed an interracial gay couple with a young girl and the caption read “Be the reason she has hope.”
Despite fears, the reality is that the visibility of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, along with cultural acceptance of transgender individuals, has aided the mental and emotional health of some of our most vulnerable young people.
Fear of discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse. In a study based on data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 42.3 percent of respondents reported having attempted suicide, and 26.3 percent reported misusing drugs or alcohol to cope with transgender-related discrimination. Family rejection was associated with increased odds of both behaviors, and the odds of engaging in such behaviors increased significantly with increasing levels of family rejection.
Fear of discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse.
Many advocacy organizations have cited a lack of role models and cultural acceptance as contributing to isolation and depression, something even more problematic among communities of color. In a 2015 Marie Claire article, activist and writer Janet Mock wrote that the cultural acceptance of multiple genders in her native Hawaii “served as a backdrop for my best friend and me as we embodied our womanhood, enabling us to transition through the halls of our high school and become who we knew ourselves to be.” A 2016 study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated that transgender children with supportive families have no more anxiety or depression than children who don’t identify as trans.
Rather than being threatening to others, the visibility of trans and gender-nonconforming people contributes to the well-being of youth, both trans and cis, and to a safer, more civil society. Exposure to trans and gender-nonconforming individuals benefits our society both directly and indirectly. Normalizing transgender and gender-nonconforming lives through visibility on television, in movies, and in daily life offers role models people can identify with, especially during the agonizing process of coming out. Additionally, these representations help our allies address their own fears by seeing us in everyday settings, and they help everyone, trans or cis, explore the rich diversity of gender and sexuality by offering a vision of a broad range of possibilities for how we might live our lives.
Excerpted from “You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!” And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People by Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, and Laura A. Jacobs, LCSW-R. On Sale from Beacon Press May 30th, 2017. Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.