Freedom from discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation is a constitutionally recognized human right. However, when a person whose gender identity or behavior does not conform to that which is typically associated with the sex to which they were born, respecting this right can become complicated, especially when dealing with transgender individuals in school or in business situations. Such issues as bathroom assignment, gym assignment, dress code, and other issues are very complicated, and very new. This makes it difficult to definitively come to conclusions on what is necessarily right or wrong, fair or unfair, and to whom. In a school setting in particular, where minors are involved, the rights of the transgender individual must be balanced against the rights of the other students. It is important to consider not just the physical safety of all involved parties, but also their mental and emotional safety. The business setting is very different, with separate concerns, such as what other employees and customers might think, and concern about a potential loss of business based on the mere presence of transgender people in the company.
Understanding Transgender People
There is a common misconception that transgender is a term which is interchangeable with homosexual. In fact, homosexuals are persons who are sexually attracted to people of the same sex, while transgender persons actually identify as being of the sex opposite of that which they were born (Lev, 2014). This is most often described as a man feeling as if he was meant to be a woman, or vice versa. Transgender individuals may present as being either heterosexual or homosexual regarding their adopted sexual identity (Lev, 2014).
Considering the Applicable Laws
There are currently no old laws to protect the rights of transgender individuals, although in a number of court cases, their individual rights to self-expression have been upheld. That being said, new laws are continually being written or introduces, and laws or no laws, this issue is not going to go away, and it needs to be dealt with in the best interest of both the transgender student and his/her classmates (Kranzow, Hinkle, & Foote, 2015). Freedom of expression laws can be very widely interpreted, however, and will most likely not be applicable in every situation. Recent legislation tends to err on the side of caution and popular opinion, enforcing the need for transgender individuals to use facilities which correspond to their assigned sex, not the sex which they are comfortable with (Mclean, 2016). Many legislators and individuals are fighting these new rules and laws, however, and the issue is still heating up politically (Mclean, 2016).
Restrooms for the Transgendered
As a general rule, most mental health counselors recommend that transgender persons of any age have access to the restroom that corresponds to the gender that they identity with, especially if it aligns with the gender in which they present themselves. If a person desires privacy or is not comfortable in a public restroom, it is advised that a single stall bathroom should be made available, if at all possible. In a school setting, if a faculty stall needs to be made available, that should be seen as the solution. (Seelman, 2014). It is important that the use of a single stall facility be the student’s idea, and that he is not coerced by parents, other students, or school officials (Adams, 2015).
Many lawsuits have been brought against schools for allowing transgender students (especially male to female) to use the female restroom. There is a fear amongst parents that a biological male using the female restroom poses a threat to the other girls using it at the time. It is important to realize that transgender individuals are no more likely to commit a sex offense than is the average person, and this should be communicated to parents (Uebel, 2015).
Fear is the basis behind many of the discriminatory beliefs and behaviors towards transgender people: fear of the unknown, the different, and things that people just don’t understand. By learning more about transgender people, and understanding that theirs is just another stop on the spectrum of sexuality which we are all on, this fear can be alleviated (Long, 2014). Starting an open dialogue between transgender people and non-transgender people to foster this understanding is the first step in putting any differences, either real or imagined, behind those who are fighting for their rights to express their own sexuality in a way that feels right to them and those who are fighting against their rights to do so. We are, after all, just people, whatever our sexual orientation happens to be (Long, 2014).
- Adams, F. (Oct 23, 2015). Transgender students deserve equal access: colleges must offer counseling, educational support, and understanding. In: The Chronicle of Higher Education 62(8): B20-B23.
- Kranzow, J., Hinkle, S. E., & Foote, S. M. (2015). Fostering success for students in transition. Journal of College & University Student Living Journal 42(1): 124-127.
- Lev, A. I. (2014). Understanding transgender identities and exploring sexuality and desire. In: Sexual Diversity and Sexual Offending: Research, Assessment, and Clinical Treatment in Psychosexual Therapy. Allez, Glyn Hudson (Ed); New York: Karnac Books.
- Long, L. T. (2014). Review: Mastering wellness: LGBT people’s understanding of wellbeing through interest sharing. Journal of Research in Nursing 21(3): 210-211.
- Mclean, R. (Apr 20, 2016). Target takes stand on transgender bathroom controversy. CNN Money. Retrieved from: http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/20/news/companies/target-transgender-bathroom-lgbt/index.html
- Uebel M. (2015). Understanding gender dysphoria: navigating transgender issues in a changing culture. In: Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. New York: IVP Academic.
- Seelman, K. L. (Sep 2014). Recommendations of transgender students, staff, and faculty in the USA for improving college campuses. Gender & Education 26(6): 618-635.