It’s time to stop the assault on transgender rights | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It’s time to stop the assault on transgender rights

A transgender woman is simply a woman, a transgender man is just a man, and we need to stop thinking about them as anything else.

I never thought I’d agree with Ted Cruz on anything, but after his Pittsburgh visit this weekend I realized we’re on the same page on a very important point. 

“I can tell you it doesn’t make sense for grown men to be in the bathroom with little girls,” Cruz told the crowd at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Like Cruz, I don’t support strange men in women’s bathrooms. No pedophiles, either. 

But here’s where Ted and I part ways. No, I don’t believe a man should be allowed in the women’s restroom. And if a man sauntered into a restroom where my nieces or my wife were, I would remove him expeditiously. But that’s not what Cruz is talking about and we know it. Cruz wants to block trans women from using the bathroom that is in line with their gender identity.

Those are the people he’s been referring to as men in dresses in as many crass, sarcastic and condescending ways that he can. Cruz’s argument doesn’t hold water and here’s why: A transgender woman is simply a woman, a transgender man is just a man, and we need to stop thinking about them as anything else. For far too long now, we’ve allowed homophobes and hatemongers to make these untrue, damaging statements. Cruz makes jokes about it.

“If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t use the little girls’ restroom,” Cruz told Indiana voters on April 25. Comments like that are unnecessary and irresponsible. The bile being spewed publicly at trans individuals in this country wouldn’t be tolerated if it were targeted at anyone else. It’s hate speech, pure and simple; and by-and-large it’s hate speech that a lot of people either support or turn a blind eye to. 

Everybody thinks it’s funny to make a “dude-in-a-dress joke.” But it’s not just a harmless joke. It could be the one thing, the last straw that pushes someone over the breaking point. To a person who is struggling to live as who they truly are — searching for the courage to be themselves — comments from idiots on the street are bad enough. Just imagine if your gender struggle were now front-and-center because some third-rate politicians decided to score points with the most intolerant among their base.

According to stats from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 41 percent of trans individuals have attempted suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the population as a whole. According to numbers from the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, more than 50 percent of young trans individuals will attempt suicide at least once before age 20.

Do these really seem like numbers we should be making fun of? Because when Ted Cruz or anyone else makes cavalier, offhand statements about trans individuals, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Cruz himself has shown that he doesn’t care about the struggles facing transgender youth. At a Maryland rally on April 22, Cruz staffers reportedly ejected a trans teen and his mother before the event even got under way. The boy, James Van Kuilenburg, was even called “ma’am” on his way out. 

And that’s the problem: We need to stop thinking of these people simply by the gender that’s written on their birth certificate. James Van Kuilenburg isn’t a girl playing dress-up; he’s a 15-year-old boy. There are scientific studies from UCLA, the University of Vienna and many other sources that show that gender isn’t solely based on genitalia; it has to do with a person’s biological makeup. So not only is calling a trans woman a “guy in a dress” wrong socially and morally, it’s also very likely wrong scientifically. 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a lot of science here, because science, fact and reason have no place in a discussion about Republican rhetoric. You’d have better luck trying to convince a lion not to eat a gazelle than convincing most right-wingers that gender is based on what’s in our head, not on what’s in our underwear.

We need politicians and leaders who are out there pushing for state and federal anti-discrimination protections for the entire LGBT community. Trans individuals are taking a beating right now in political campaigns and in backward state legislation, like the travesty recently passed in North Carolina. Ted Cruz has called allowing trans individuals into the restroom that they identify with “political correctness on steroids.” It’s sad to me that so many people think standing up for someone’s rights and not belittling them to make a political point is all because of political correctness. It used to be called human decency.

Ephemeral art made at Chalk Fest
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Ephemeral art made at Chalk Fest

By Pam Smith