In a White House press conference last Thursday, a reporter stated that “82 percent of transgender children report feeling unsafe at school.” She then asserted that by rolling back Obama’s May 2016 school transgender bathroom guidance, the Trump administration was leaving transgender children “open to being bullied at school.” She followed this up by saying: “Transgender children say that their experiences [of] not being able to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable using makes them vulnerable to bullying.”
Just to be clear: It is tragic to know that such a high percentage of students who identify as transgendered feel unsafe at school. It goes without saying that bullying must be fought by any and every reasonable means at educators’ disposal. Anti-bullying policies and laws that are currently in place in all 50 states play an important part in this. But even more important is the education of children at home, where parents need to instill in their kids Christ’s golden rule from Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” This underscores the Christian principle that every human being, no matter what sexual identity they present, is a precious creation of God that deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
With that being said, do single-sex bathroom policies contribute to an “unsafe” environment for students who identify as transgendered, as the reporter asserts? The Obama administration’s solution to this perceived problem was to require schools to implement the following policy for restrooms and locker rooms: “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”
It remains unclear how this policy would have achieved its goal of mitigating bullying. For example, if a biological male who identifies as a female felt uncomfortable going into the boy’s restroom because of the potential bullying he would receive from other boys, how could he reasonably expect to feel safer if he were instead to go into the girl’s restroom? In the latter situation, the girls already in the restroom may feel (at the very least) uncomfortable or possibly threatened, which would lead to a less safe situation for everyone involved. How is this in any way a desirable outcome?
A common-sense solution to this situation is for schools to provide a third gender-neutral bathroom option. This solution is endorsed by the National Association of School Psychologists in a study entitled “Safe School Environments for Transgender Students.” In the study, students at a school near Chicago who identified as transgendered gave positive feedback on gender-neutral facilities: “Students revealed that having more gender-neutral facilities eliminated tardiness and having to go to an opposite area of the building to use the bathroom during classes. Students also said that the private locker room felt safer than having to share it with nontransgender students…”
To be clear, all schools were free to implement the bathroom policies that they deemed appropriate for the needs of their students, including gender-neutral options, before the Obama bathroom directive was handed down last year. There was never a need for this kind of “top-down” approach that infringes on the effectiveness of solving problems at the local level. By rolling back this misguided policy, the Trump administration is leaving states and school districts free to craft the policies that best protect their particular students’ needs.