Leave it to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) to remind us how little our society still understands and respects the transgender community.
Despite America’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to Caitlyn Jenner, there are still many transgender people who, because they don’t conform to cisgender presentation norms, are seen as freaks, threats and sexual predators for simply trying to use the restroom.
On Tuesday, BuzzFeed posted a video from Huckabee’s February speech at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville. In true Huckabee fashion, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate alerted his constituents to one of the many “threats” facing our nation—that transgender Americans want the right to use a restroom that aligns with their gender identity:
For those who do not think that we are under threat, simply recognize that the fact that we are now in city after city watching ordinances say that your 7-year-old daughter, if she goes into the restroom, cannot be offended, and you can’t be offended if she’s greeted there by a 42-year-old man who feels more like a woman than he does a man.
This notion that trans people pose a threat to the “opposite sex” stems from a gross misunderstanding that gender identity and sexual orientation are one and the same and, further, that trans people stand to gain some sort of villainous sexual entry by using a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
Sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign, is the preferred term used when referring to an individual’s physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender. Gender identity, which is distinct from a person’s sexual orientation, refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman or other gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth.
But since Huckabee didn’t know that, he continued:
“Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in P.E. … I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’”
Opponents to making bathrooms gender inclusive usually cite the same concerns. They say we need bills that will prohibit trans people from entering any bathroom that is discordant with their biological sex in order to protect ourselves and our children’s safety and privacy. As Florida Rep. Frank Artiles (R) told the Miami Herald, “A man such as myself can walk into the bathroom at LA Fitness while women are taking showers, changing and simply walk in there…If I feel like a woman that day, I can be allowed to be in that locker room.”
It’s important to remind ourselves, especially in the wake of Caitlyn Jenner’s positive debut, that for many transgender Americans there is still a long way to go for political and social equality. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 59 percent of trans students have been denied access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity; proposed legislation across the country could have transgender people facing thousands of dollars in fines for using a bathroom that doesn’t align with their biological sex; and even an elementary school in my own hometown of Stafford, Virginia, which had begun accommodating a trans student’s gender identity, redacted its stance when many parents organized to protect their children from “predatory individuals.”
So, yes, Mr. Huckabee, you and your constituents “are the ones who are ridiculed and scorned,” but not because you “point out the obvious.” Rather, because you fail to notice the obvious—that sexual orientation and gender identity are not one in the same, and that a transgender person’s right to use a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity does not pose a risk, especially not a sexual risk, to anyone. We hear you when you say that you’d “just like for somebody to bring their brain to work someday and not leave it on the bedstand when they show up to govern.” We hear you, and we feel the same.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons 2.0