Una Mullally: Trump turns his bullying on transgender toilets
LGBT Americans are included in all the other groups targeted by the president
Transgender TV star Laverne Cox: “Folks who oppose trans people having access to facilities that are consistent with how we identify know the things they claim don’t actually happen . . . It’s really about us not existing, about erasing trans people.” Photograph: Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images for NARAS
A sign posted outside of the gender-neutral toilets in LA's Santee High School. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
During and in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s chaotic entry into the White House, it was reported that Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, one of Trump’s closest advisers, persuaded the president to scrap an executive order aimed at overturning LGBT rights. This faux-appeasement rang hollow for the LGBT community.
LGBT people are not a homogenous group, but intersect with plenty of other people who are and will be victims of Trump’s policies. LGBT people are also African-Americans, the poor, refugees, immigrants, undocumented workers, women, those with no health insurance, victims of gun violence, Muslims, Jews, and everyone else Trump has thumbed his nose at and worse.
The desire among a homophobic and ultra-conservative cohort of the Republican party, and indeed among some people surrounding Trump, for LGBT people to be discriminated against is warped. But along with a catalogue of prejudices at the centre of Trump’s administration, homophobia is very much there. Make no mistake.
As a congressman in 2007, vice-president Mike Pence voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which banned workplace discrimination on the basis of people’s sexuality. Pence flagged early on that the protections introduced by Barack Obama for transgender students to use restrooms based on what gender they identify as would be rolled back. Pence also did not want to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” US military policy that forced military personnel to be closeted or thrown out.
In 2015, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Religious freedom or “conscience” laws are often euphemisms for legislative mechanisms aimed at discriminating against LGBT people, using the excuse of personal religious beliefs as both a weapon and a shield.
Jeff Sessions, the new US attorney general, has spent a good deal of his career fighting against equality. When voting against a part of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, the then senator of Alabama said: “Today, I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination . . . I just don’t see it.”
Can’t go back
These Trumpians are now in a bit of a pickle. When it comes to the gays, they can’t go back to the good ol’ days. Sectors of the LGBT community, and individual gay Americans themselves, now have too much political power, popular support, and financial sway to be trodden upon. The fact that Trump hasn’t tried to scrap gay marriage and other rights the LGBT Americans have fought so hard for is because it would be strongly opposed, and there are other priorities. The first up were refugees, immigrants and Muslims – groups with less political capital than gay people rights now.
What we do know about Trump and his army of right-wing fiends is that they are bullies. And what bullies do is target the most vulnerable. Trump and his pals know that if they move to overturn a raft of LGBT rights, the community and its allies will raise hell. So instead the White House zeroes in on a demographic it wants to discriminate against and goes for the most marginalised, the most vulnerable as a starter. This is what Martin Niemöller, the German anti-Nazi theologian, was talking about when he wrote “First they came . . . ”
Within the LGBT community, there is perhaps no more vulnerable person than a young trans person. A 2012 mental health and wellbeing survey of transgender people in Ireland published by Transgender Equality Network Ireland showed that 78 per cent of respondents had thought about ending their lives; 44 per cent said they self-harmed; and 40 per cent said they had actually attempted suicide.
To purposefully set out to make the lives of young trans people harder, to devise ways to stigmatise young trans people, to envisage something so basic as being able to go to the toilet in the bathroom you want to use as a territory that should be grabbed back, is vile. Transphobia kills.
Not about bathrooms
“These anti-trans bathroom bills are not really about bathrooms,” says trans rights activist and actor Laverne Cox, who costars in Orange Is the New Black. “They’re about whether or not we want and believe that trans people have a right to exist in public space. When trans people can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to schools effectively, go to work effectively, access healthcare facilities. It’s about us existing in public space.
“Folks who oppose trans people having access to facilities that are consistent with how we identify know the things that they claim don’t actually happen . . . It’s really about us not existing, about erasing trans people.”
The rolling back of trans rights is hateful, but it is also the action of bullies. “Apparently even becoming attorney general isn’t enough to cure some people of their insecurities,” said Caitlyn Jenner.
The so-called “concerns” people have about which bathrooms trans students can use are fabricated or ignorant or disingenuous or all three. They are the reverberations of the hate and phobia people still express about gay men and women, as if we are perverts or sex offenders or they need protection from us. It has become unacceptable in many places to be so overtly homophobic. But banning trans people from the bathrooms they want to use is a twisted way of amplifying the historical echoes of such discrimination.
Let us remind ourselves: It is the American president himself who bragged about, and is accused of, sexually assaulting women, not the transgender kids who just want to use the bathroom.