El. Gee. Bee. Tee. The acronym LGBT (short for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) has largely surpassed “gay” as the socially acceptable term for referring to sexual and gender minorities. LGBT sounds newer, younger, and more progressive. But how much attention is really paid to the fourth letter? Many newspaper articles speak of LGBT issues while only enumerating “gays and lesbians” as the relevant population. An estimated 52% of Americans support gay marriage, but how many of those people have an awareness of transgender people and their histories, challenges, or victories?
A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a transgender woman might have been assigned “male” at birth but identify as a woman, and some people identify outside of the male/female gender binary entirely.
Currently, in the state of California, transgender students’ rights are in contention. Six weeks after the Supreme Court of the United States decided in favor of gay marriage in two landmark cases, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law the School Success and Opportunity Act (SSOA). SSOA states that all students have the right to participate in gender-segregated activities and use gender-segregated facilities according to their gender identity. It was authored in response to reports that transgender students were being prohibited from using gendered restroom facilities and appropriately participating in activities such as sports or physical education. The law is set to go into effect on January 1, 2014.
This law addresses a dire need in our schools. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey published in 2011 found that 78% of transgender students were harassed in K-12 education, and 15% left school due to harassment. Exclusionary policies have deep rooted effects on students. The National Center for Lesbian Rights explains that “being singled out and treated differently than their peers is detrimental to a transgender student’s psychological, social, and academic wellbeing and development.”
Although this legislation may only be a small step in countering transphobia, with SSOA transgender students will no longer need to worry that their gender identity will be denied by the school itself. When it comes to bathrooms, gym classes, and sports teams, transgender boys will be treated like other boys, and transgender girls like other girls. Will it cause trouble? Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest district in the state of California, implemented a similar policy in 2005 and has “encountered nothing but positive results.”
Unfortunately, there has been considerable backlash to this law. The National Organization for Marriage, the Pacific Justice Institute, the Capitol Resource Institute, and Faith and Public Policy have bankrolled the conservative coalition Privacy for All Students to use California’s referendum to put the law on the ballot next year. As of November 10, Privacy for All Students has gathered 620,000 signatures, largely by taking advantage of the public’s lack of awareness about transgender people. One organization’s homepage prominently features a misleading banner urging readers to stop the “Co-Ed Bathroom Bill,” a line of argument that has been used extensively to scare voters into signing the petition for the referendum effort. Another example of scare tactics used by Privacy for All Students are the Pacific Justice Institute’s publicly-admitted lies about a transgender student harassing classmates while using the women’s restroom.
Until widespread awareness is raised about transgender issues, the public will continue to be misled by conservative groups. If SSOA ends up on the ballot, it will only contribute to the damage done by years of silence around transgender issues. (As of press time, it is not yet clear if the referendum effort was successful). But the silence must stop somewhere, and at Stanford University we can do our part.
Stanford has a visible and growing transgender population, and it is our responsibility as community members to become educated about transgender issues. Challenge yourself to think critically about how our society systematically discriminates against those who do not conform to gender norms. Access the countless resources available to you on and off campus in order to learn more about your transgender peers.
When your dorm or student group has a meeting, ask people to state their preferred gender pronouns so as not to assume the gender identity of any community members. Many queer-specific student groups include preferred gender pronouns as part of group introductions, but other student groups including Stanford NAACP and the writing group Spoken Word Collective also have adopted the practice.
Take action not because you want to be politically correct. Take action because your efforts will make Stanford a safer place for all students. Take action because without widespread effort in our society, legislation protecting transgender people will be overturned too easily with malicious misinformation.
We ask you to broaden your enthusiasm for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights and stand beside transgender students as well. California’s students deserve SSOA, and all people deserve a world where they can express their gender identity authentically and safely.
Sasha Perigo ’17 and Violet Trachtenberg ’16 are members of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation.