Friday, May 27, 2016

Governor, state lawmakers use questionable rhetoric in defending “potty crusade” lawsuit

"Jim Crow" language exposes bigotry, and nothing more, drives conservatives on debate over bathrooms

Wisconsin is joining ten other states across the country in a lawsuit against the Obama administration for its recent recommendations to recognize the rights of transgender students to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identities.

This is hardly a surprising, but still very depressing, turn of events. As I’ve noted frequently, transgender students deserve recognition as the gender they identify with, and should be granted the right to use restrooms that reflect that identity.

But others see it differently, and intend to use taxpayer dollars to sue the federal government to change its directive. In defending the planned lawsuit, Gov. Scott Walker and other Wisconsin politicians have expressed themselves in some very concerning ways.

Republican Rep. Tom Larson told reporters that he felt God “wrote in my heart that I shouldn’t go into a women’s restroom because I’d be tempted to be a pervert.”

This is troubling for two reasons. First, Larson is stating that his temptations are staved off only by limiting his access to a private room with females present. It’s not hard to imagine that such comments could sound off alarm bells for women working in the Capitol building.

Second, it implies that transgender men and women wishing to use facilities aligning with their genders are perverts. They are not -- the American Psychological Association explains that transgender individuals are simply pursuing their true identity. Some have suggested, in the past and more recently, that trans individuals suffer from a “mental disorder,” but those ideas are similarly shot down and refuted by the APA:
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination. Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault.
That last line is especially telling -- transgender men and women often face huge burdens of discrimination, including being prevented access to restrooms that they identify with. When such burdens become overwhelming, the result far too often is self-harm, including documented events of suicide.

But Larson’s comments aren’t the only examples of troubling rhetoric from Wisconsin conservatives. Gov. Scott Walker, in defending the decision to sue the feds, offered his thoughts as well.

“The federal government has no business telling local school districts what to do with bathrooms for kindergarten students,” he tweeted out.

That same line of argument, however, was repeatedly used by bigoted segregationists in the south when they tried to legitimize keeping blacks separate from whites in public restrooms. Southern lawmakers, the descendents of secessionists, used the “states’ rights” argument for generations to legitimize Jim Crow laws, even after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

It is especially hypocritical of Walker and other Republicans to say it is wrong for a higher government authority to limit the actions of local governments. Wisconsin Republicans have passed nearly 130 bills since 2011 that limit local control, and just this past year Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) tried to pass a bathroom bill that would have directed how local school districts must treat transgender students -- in a negative way.

To use the same rhetorical tactic in the restrooms debate that racist lawmakers used in the past undermines any arguments that Walker and company can make, especially about supposed safety concerns that are overblown and exaggerated. The true motivations of those supporting this lawsuit are exposed -- it is bigotry that drives their ambitions, and nothing more.

Transgender students deserve to feel safe in Wisconsin schools, not derided by the lawmakers that are meant to represent their interests. They deserve respect and to be treated as the gender they identify as. Gov. Walker and other GOP state representatives need to educate themselves on transgender issues, and drop their planned lawsuit against the Obama administration.

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