An Aberdeen teacher posed the following pertinent question to Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark), prime Senate sponsor of House Bill 1008, the paranoid potty bill that currently awaits Governor Dennis Daugaard’s signature:
If we only consider transgender students and how uncomfortable people might feel in the locker room, how far are we going to extend that? Are we also going to consider students who identify themselves as being gay, lesbian, and how a student who is not gay or lesbian might feel in a locker room with those students? And where can we put those students if we feel that they are making others uncomfortable? [citizen question, Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2016.02.20]
I like this teacher’s question. It gets at the fundamental question I’ve been posing since Rep. Fred Deutsch first vowed back in November to distract the Legislature with this culture-war kerfuffle: what are we really worried about?
HB 1008 supporters seem terrified that creeps and wise guys will masquerade as transgender students to ogle our innocent daughters. But should we not be as concerned that lesbian students will ogle our daughters, or that young gay boys will continue to enjoy the arousal of seeing our innocent sons in states of sweaty undress? If titillation is the real concern behind HB 1008 (and really, what else could it be?), our high schools need far more than separate but equal facilities for transgender kids; we need to build lockable single stall bathrooms and changing rooms for every student. If we can’t allow any situation where one student might get impure thoughts from looking at another student, then heck—given that funny feeling I got when I was fourteen and sitting in art class next the most beautiful girl in Lake County, we’d better put every student in a classroom cubicle so the only thing they can see is each other’s heads!
Alas, neither Senator Greenfield nor Rep. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) addressed the Aberdeen teacher’s question. They missed the point of principle at the heart of the question
Senator Greenfield said repeatedly that HB 1008 has nothing to do with homosexuality. Sen. Greenfield reiterated his well-worn but still unsubstantiated anecdote about a sexual abuse victim who feels terrorized by male anatomy.
Senator Greenfield and Rep. Novstrup both resorted to their longing for the old days and their ciruclar-logic word games:
Greenfield: We’re simply trying to go back to a time when the designation on the door meant that that was who it was appropriate for [Senator Brock Greenfield].
Novstrup: There is your sex. We know what that means. Gender is what you decide you are…. today I’m a male, and I got decisions to make [Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2016.02.20].
Rep. Novstrup also cited the story now popular in anti-trans circles of a man (more likely a troll) who last week entered a women’s locker room in Seattle last week to make a fuss about transgender rules. Rep. Novstrup failed to acknowledge that the man did not claim to be transgender. He also did not acknowledge the complete irrelevance of his example to the debate over HB 1008, which deals exclusively with K-12 transgender students and how K-12 school districts accommodate them. (HB 1008 actually excludes all adults from any bathrooms or locker rooms used by students, so the Seattle situation is doubly irrelevant to this debate.)
Rep. Novstrup said that the state is not judging or criticizing people, then fell into the Newspeak that has characterized this debate:
We’re just saying that we don’t want a boy to say his gender is female and head toward the women’s locker room. What the bill actually says is kind and gentle, and it’s catching a thousand times more heat than it deserves. It says boys go the boys’ bathroom or locker room, girls go to the girls’ locker room, and if that isn’t comfortable because you’ve got other decisions in your life, your gender is a transgender, then go talk to the administration and have them try to make it the best they can for you, especially if they’re not a reasonable accommodation, which means if there’s a third bathroom, let’s go use the third bathroom. But I don’t think having boys undress in the girls’ bathroom is the appropriate answer [Rep. Al Novstrup, Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2016.02.20].
Sen. Greenfield and Rep. Novstrup say they are trying to be kind and gentle and accommodate transgender students. But they fall back to the absolute binary gender designations that they want to impose on every student by legislative fiat. They say “Boys use the boys’ room, girls use the girls’ room” to box transgender concerns out of the debate. Greenfield and Novstrup and HB 1008 thus do not accommodate transgender students on the fundamental issue that they are asking us to recognize: that gender is not sex, that being transgender is not a whim, and that saying “I’m a boy” or “I’m a girl” is not a casual or predatory choice but an acknowledgment that body and brain don’t always agree on such things and an acceptance of who that child is.
Jill Stephenson, counselor in the Aberdeen Central School District, appears to agree with me in this subsequent question:
Stephenson said HB 1008 forces transgender youth who appear male to use use female bathrooms. She says that HB 1008 violates the professional standards of practice of national professional counseling and education guidelines. She asks who will cover the schools when they get sued for violating those standards and Title IX. Rep. Novstrup erroneously states that HB 1008 will bring the state in to protect the schools, even though the requirement that the Attorney General represent the schools in HB 1008-related lawsuits was stripped in committee and explicitly rejected again when the Senate rejected Senator Bernie Hunhoff’s (D-18/Yankton) amendment to restore that state responsibility for litigating HB 1008 at the local level. Professing sympathy with transgender students, Rep. Novstrup then equates transgender students’ challenges with all of our “major struggles with all the different things that happen in our families, addictions and problems and disease… we all struggle is my point.” But he returns to drawing “a line in the sand” where “we’re not going to allow a boy in the girls’ locker room taking a shower or vice versa.”
The Center for Equality is holding a Trans Kids Support Visibility Day rally at the Capitol tomorrow from noon to 2 p.m. Many trans kids may not want this visibility—they just want to go pee and play ball. But this visibility is necessary to convince Governor Dennis Daugaard to reject Greenfield’s and Novstrup’s harmful, marginalizing word games and veto HB 1008.