On Monday I went to a Senate bill hearing and then signed up to testify too. Not the sort of thing I have done before, well actually I have gone to city council meetings and have given comments a few times. What got me to change my schedule and show up? It was having an in person conversation with someone who stated the need for cisgender (a person whose gender identity aligns with their gender assignment at birth) women to be present at hearings in support of transgender folks.
This time it wasn’t hard, I had eldercare, it’s only a 15 minute drive to the Capitol and I didn’t have a complicated schedule that day. It’s not that it’s the most passionate issue for me, I feel competition for my attention/time in a world in which the needs are so many. There is much to learn about, raise awareness about, speak to lawmakers, and fight for justice on. On Monday I could do it.
This was a Law and Justice Committee hearing on Senate Bill 6548, the “bathroom bill”. In 2006 the Washington State Law Against Discrimination was expanded to include sexual orientation or gender identity guaranteeing individuals among other things access to the restroom or locker room that matches their identity and feels the safest to them. Transgender persons are highly discriminated against and are frequent victims of violence, hate crimes and murder. This new bill is written to limit access to gender specific facilities by transgender persons. This access has been in place for 10 years with no reports of assaults by transgender people only some reports of cisgender persons being uncomfortable with a transpersons presence. Mostly nobody has noticed trans folks in the restrooms because they are discreet and respectful and there for the same reason as me, to use the toilet.
When some of the speakers in favor of the bill began to testify I thought they sounded pretty reasonable. They are really concerned about children’s safety (who can argue against that?) They feel that as the law currently stands we are giving perpetrators of sexual assault against women and children free access to victims. No, none of us want to support sexual perpetrators. So from this fear, they believe that we can’t be too careful. Yet the supporters of this bill are unable (and some unwilling) to see how the bill would make it less safe for transgender adults and children.
Wait, what? Transchildren? Yup, many children begin to express the belief that they have the wrong genitals for who they know themselves to be as soon as they can speak. If they are in a family who supports their belief in themselves, and are not forced into a gender identity that feels so very wrong to them, they feel most comfortable and safe in a public facility that matches who they are rather than their given genitals. But this bill would no longer grant that right. Which makes me wonder what authority will be checking peoples pants at the door.
One woman who spoke in support of this bill said ”I’m not intending to discriminate against transgender people.” I wonder if she listened to the testimony of how this bill will discriminate against transpeople? And is she willing to change her position to be in line with her intention to not discriminate against transpeople?
Everywhere that we see social injustice we hear a similar refrain. “I am not racist” “I don’t have any ill will against_______people” “I’m not trying to hurt anybody”. Okay. I believe that. I can hear the sincere and earnest conviction. Now I would ask “Are you willing to hear how your actions are discriminating? discriminating against someone different than you, someone who you have no idea of what I is like to live as every day.” This information can be a shocking and painful revelation for folks of privilege (and I have been there). It comes down to other folks of privilege (in this case like me cisgender) who need to support them in facing the fact that they are supporting a system that is discriminating. One in which hurting some hurts all. That is what I believe; we are all effecting each other by our actions, so we need to look at the consequences not just our intentions.
I think there are ways to help these parents minimize perpetrators access to their children but this bill isn’t one of them. Education, awareness, safety training, empowerment, teaching self-determination, and standing up for those who have less power and are being victimized, keep all of us safer. Transphobia protects no one, it hurts and even kills people; it attempts to keep people in a “good and safe world” by hiding differences.
My heart goes out to those who are transphobic (or______phobic) and suddenly find themselves or someone they dearly love no longer fitting into the narrow definition of good and normal. Their good and safe world instantly crumbles. And maybe next time instead of just taking a stand on what I believe is right I can have a conversation with someone who is taking the opposite position than me.