‘Saving Our Locker Rooms’ Arguments Erase Transgender People


California’s new law ensuring transgender students have equal access to school facilities and activities is uniting various conservative groups in opposition. The effort to repeal AB 1266, the so-called “Privacy For All Students” campaign, has the support of the National Organization for Marriage, and groups around the country are similarly speaking out against trans equality. The latest to join the fray is Brandon McGinley of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, who attempts to explain why transgender people should be prohibited from using locker rooms:

Sex-segregated personal facilities exist because there are some very particular ways in which men and women remain different, and always will be different. We need not go into detail to observe that men and women have different experiences in restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated places because of the differences in their anatomy. Separating the sexes in these facilities allows for distinct physical accommodations proper to the needs of men and women, but more importantly it allows for camaraderie among those who share the whole life experience of manhood or womanhood—among those who are the same. Advice, help, humor—there are some things that only those of the same sex can fully understand and appreciate, and which would not only be awkward but senseless to discuss with someone of the opposite sex (other than, perhaps, a spouse).

Secondarily, these personal facilities also implicate parts of the body that are particularly sexual in nature, even if nudity is not present. Personal facilities are sex-segregated in order to reduce their sexual nature. Healthy and professional non-sexual relationships between men and women depend on banishing the specter of sexuality from public facilities—even placing to one side the threat of harassment and general boorishness.

McGinley’s argument requires the assumption that everybody in the locker room presents as the same gender and is attracted to the same (opposite) gender, thereby erasing not only transgender people, but all LGBT people. Apparently locker rooms are sexual spaces where people talk about sex, so anybody whose anatomy or orientation violates the norms of that space is somehow making it “awkward” and “unsafe.” According to McGinley, such “visceral discomfort” can be “explained rationally,” thus justifying arguments against transgender inclusion.

Ironically, it’s this very argument that explains why the law is important for protecting transgender students. How people’s gender is perceived in the locker room will directly impact how safe they feel in that space. A transgender woman — who looks, acts, and dresses like a woman — would likely feel incredibly unsafe in a men’s locker room. She wouldn’t be seen as the “opposite sex” when it comes to “advice, help, and humor” in a women’s room; in fact, she could probably relate quite well with the women there. There’s also no reason to believe she’d be lesbian, nor should that matter since McGinley doesn’t seem to be arguing against allowing gays and lesbians to use locker rooms. His argument doesn’t provide a solution for transgender people; it just tries to discount them entirely.

This is congruent with the campaign’s other tactics. In a new insert being distributed in California churches, Privacy for All Students claims that sex is determined by “great natural and moral truths”:

Certainly, it is wrong whenever a child suffers discrimination and bullying for any reason. We have laws on the books to guard against that. But it’s also wrong to use our laws to frustrate and deny great natural and moral truths. One such truth is that men and women offer unique and complementary contributions to human flourishing. Society is better served when those contributions are encouraged, not when the uniqueness of being male and being female are stripped from societal norms and we’re guided into a genderless future. This is especially true when, as with AB 1266, children are used as weapons in a culture war.

The reality of transgender people is also a great natural and moral truth, but it’s not one that these groups are willing to acknowledge. Given their eagerness to discriminate against transgender students, it’s ironic that they worry that an individual claiming a trans gender identity “needs no evidence.” The mere fact that they have the courage to open themselves up to such degradation and stigma should be enough to merit them the benefit of the doubt.