Rodney Cavness, superintendent of a Texas school district, became famous last week for saying that the White House’s guidance letter on transgender kids and school bathrooms was “going straight to the shredder.”
The response from right and left was predictable, and so this week, Cavness complained on Fox News that “I’ve been called everything you can be called this week… hateful, bigoted… it is simply not like that.”
He’s right. The problem isn’t hate; it’s ignorance. In fact, in Cavness’s five-minute interview, four key misconceptions about this whole non-issue were laid bare for anyone who cared to pay attention.
1. Transgender is not a whim
First, the fair and balanced Fox News anchor said the White House was demanding that schools “let transgender kids use any bathroom they want.”
False, false, false. In fact, so false, so idiotically and completely false, that it makes those of us watching this debate wonder whether these people actually believe this stuff, or whether they’re just saying it to scare folks.
In fact, being transgender is not a whim. You can’t just put on a wig and say you consider yourself female—as one right-wing protester at Target did recently. You cannot go into “any bathroom [you] want.”
In fact, transgender is an identity and gender dysphoria is a psychological diagnosis. Both are relatively rare—probably around 1 percent of Americans at most. These are facts; not opinions. Gender dysphoria (formerly Gender Identity Disorder) is an actual thing. Look it up.
What’s more, kids who are diagnosed with it aren’t just going through a phase, or playing with gender as kids normally do; they are profoundly unhappy in their bodies, and demonstrate to a mental health professional, usually over a period of months, that their felt sense of gender does not match their biological sex.
So, what are we really talking about here? In terms of schools, we’re talking about a tiny handful of kids who usually act, look, and feel like their gender identity. Boys will not be in the girls’ room. Once in a blue moon, an anatomically male child who lives her entire life as a girl will be. And that’s where she belongs.
2. Reasonable accommodations are still reasonable
Interestingly, Cavness said in the interview that his school district had trans kids in it, and that it had “accompanied [sic] these students as parents have asked”—probably he meant “accommodated.” Pressed to explain, he said they usually used “a faculty restroom or a bathroom in a nurse’s office.”
“These children don’t want to be called out,” he said.
Nothing in the White House letter would change that. All that is required, to conform with Title IX, is that facilities not discriminate on the basis of sex (interpreted here as including gender). Surely, a single-stall facility or other accommodation passes that test.
Yes, ideally, trans kids should use the gender-appropriate facility. But schools make judgments like this all the time. They might reasonably decide that a trans kid is safer in the nurse’s office—certainly if that’s what the child and parents want. There’s no way the Justice Department is going to second-guess that.
Trans kids want to be treated like normal kids. Often, they will be less “called out” in gender-appropriate restrooms: For example, they may so fully pass as their gender identity that their classmates might not even know they’re trans. In other cases, they might not pass, and it might be easier to use a separate facility. Nothing has changed.
3. Civil rights is the federal government’s business
Cavness also argued that the feds should mind their own business. “The responsibility of education is put on the states,” he said.
That’s true, but the responsibility of enforcing the Civil Rights Act is put on the federal government. This is not a case of government overreach. The White House letter was intended to put schools and other institutions on notice that they are violating Title IX if they don’t accommodate trans kids. Period. That’s exactly the purview of Title IX, and exactly why it exists in the first place.
Once again, if Cavness’s district is already accommodating trans kids in a decent, non-discriminatory, balanced way, it has nothing to worry about. But judging by what we’ve seen in the last week, there are plenty of places that aren’t so enlightened. Should these vulnerable kids be made miserable because of other people’s ignorance?
4. Safety is not a real issue here
Finally, Cavness said “my job is to keep kids safe and I will do that,” adding that he has four daughters himself.
This is where people like me get suspicious, because there isn’t really a safety issue here at all. There are no cases of trans women assaulting cisgender women in restrooms. And there’s no way to read the White House letter (or non-discrimination laws like Charlotte’s) as requiring unisex bathrooms, or boys in the girls’ room, or any of the other frightening prospects raised by conservative fear-mongers. (What is it with these people? Why are they always so afraid? Remember when they tried to terrify us all about Ebola?)
In fact, if there is a safety issue here, it’s that transgender people are assaulted at shocking rates, and are in urgent need of more serious legal protection. (Not to mention the fact that putting butch trans men in women’s rooms is not going to make women feel more safe.)
So either Cavness is being ignorant here, or he’s being manipulative. To be honest, the latter makes more sense; the guy’s not dumb, and in other places, we know for a fact that the Trans Bathroom Menace has been used as a scare tactic. In North Carolina, for example, it was used as a pretext for overturning all LGBT non-discrimination protections and even, somehow, the minimum wage.
These aren’t “Bathroom Bills”—they’re Bathroom Scare Tactics used to ram all kinds of reactionary legislation down the throats of an unsuspecting, uneducated, and terrified public. So that’s why it’s hard to take people like Cavness at their word when they say they’re worried about safety.
Despite all that, I’ll give Cavness the benefit of the doubt; I’ll assume he’s ignorant rather than duplicitous, hateful, or bigoted. But that is no excuse. Because right now, in states across the country, his ideological soulmates are indeed playing on fear to score culture-war “wins” against people they think are Biblically or otherwise abominable.
So, the burden is on you, Dr. Cayness. If you’re not one of them, prove it. Do some research into scientific studies of gender. Stop talking about stuff you don’t know about. Stop saying there’s a safety issue when there isn’t one. And most of all, if you don’t want to get called a bigot, stop acting like one.