Accommodating Transgender Students Should Have Limits — in the Washroom
A society should be judged by how well we treat the vulnerable and minorities in our midst.
But society must also be judged by how we balance the rights of all people to coexist together. Reasonable accommodation for some should never amount to a violation of the rights of others.
When it comes to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Americans, change is happening quickly — but we must be cautious of the road ahead to maintain that balance.
When it comes to the accommodation of religious observance, for example, a worker who wants to observe holidays or wear religious garb must be accommodated reasonably up until a point where an employer can demonstrate that such accommodation poses undue hardship to the business despite attempts to compromise.
The Americans with Disabilities Act also has exemptions for changing infrastructure or service provisions if it would pose an undue hardship to a facility.
But when it comes to fully accommodating youth who identify as transgender, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is saying that schools must accommodate any requests immediately and absolutely.
In ordering that an Illinois school district must not dare to interfere with a biological boy’s unfettered access to the girls’ locker room, this office of appointed officials has set a precedent for every school in the United States.
And it will have far-reaching implications. Several other similar cases have already arisen.
What is most striking about these controversies, from my point of view, is the tolerance gap.
By all accounts, school officials and students have proven sympathetic to the transgender student, while seeking reasonable accommodation. The unnamed student in the Illinois case was offered a private area in which to change clothes, to avoid the apparently unbearable scenario of having to use the boys’ locker room, while still protecting the girls’ privacy.
That led to the civil rights complaint and the ruling that this accommodation violates the transgender student’s rights — despite the fact that no one questioned the student’s orientation or pointed the student back to the male locker room.
A similar case became more heated in the small town of Hillsboro, Missouri, where Lila Perry, born male but now identifying as female, has insisted on using the girls’ locker room for gym class. A large number of students, male and female, staged a walk-out protest against such an accommodation.
Hillsboro also offered a private changing area, which Lila refused.
Numerous students and parents interviewed said they did not question the sincerity of Lila’s identification as a girl. They just wanted their feelings to be taken into account in the matter.
One astute Hillsboro high school senior, Sydney Dye, told CNN: “Some girls already have insecurity problems getting dressed in front of other girls as it is, much less having to get dressed in front of a boy.”
But Lila wasn’t having any of it, and accused every last one of the student protesters and their parent supporters as being bigots: “I don’t believe for a second that they are [uncomfortable]. I think this is pure and simple bigotry. I wasn’t hurting anyone and I didn’t want to feel segregated out.”
And so we are enmeshed in a rather sudden national debate about whether one’s desire for locker rooms and bathrooms to be segregated according to biological gender is akin to hating gays, people of color, Jews or immigrants.
I suspect that even a majority of liberals won’t get caught in that trap. As many commentators pointed out, voters in Houston — a city that heavily supported Barack Obama and elected a lesbian mayor three times — recently defeated an ordinance that included allowing transgender people to use whatever public bathroom they wish.
In the absence of written laws on this subject, or a uniform definition of a transgender student, school officials are left in the unenviable position of trying to find the wisdom of Solomon in these cases and, if they’re lucky, avoid getting sued or federally de-funded.
The only solution that will satisfy everyone involved is a redefinition of the contemporary bathroom and locker room. Public men’s and women’s rooms will eventually give way to banks of private cubicles and stall showers that allow privacy for everyone, similar to what is being done in private health clubs. This is especially important in schools. Equal rights means equal privacy for those who want it.
Only in that way, in today’s cascade of political correctness and bureaucratic redefinition of discrimination, can a girl be spared the dual indignities of being forced to shower with a boy at school, and being labeled a bigot for her discomfort.
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, and President for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth.
Mr. Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters. @E_Verschleiser