By Mansuda Arora, ACLU-MN Intern
I am a millennial who identifies as cisgender. By this point I am almost certain that someone of an older generation has rolled their eyes at that statement, and to be honest I sometimes find myself looking at my peers and finding our generation a bit out there as well. We have an almost pervasive sense of identity and individuality that seems unprecedented. I can for instance tell you that I am a cisgender, able bodied, multiracial, queer, woman of color with the same assurance that one might rattle off their home address. I go to a small liberal arts college where along with our name and year we state our PGPs or "preferred gender pronouns" as a matter of routine. I am hyper aware of the categories that I fall under that leave me vulnerable to oppression as well as the ones where I hold privilege. Although our willingness to make you aware of our vast knowledge of social issues may drive some of our parents and teachers up a wall, this is one area where we may be ahead of the older folks in our lives.
Now don't get me wrong, I believe that my parents and grandparents were members of brilliant generations of activists who tackled the issues of their time with tremendous strategy and understanding that I admire. Today, we are facing an entirely new set of issues that require a new way of thinking about ally-ship.
As anti-transgender rhetoric increases around the so called "bathroom debate" and HB2 bill in North Carolina, I am becoming more aware of our country's limited understanding of gender identity and politics. On a legal level, barring transgender people from bathrooms or other single-sex spaces is illegal due to statutory and constitutional bans on sex discrimination. On an even more basic level, trans people live their lives consistent with their gender identity just as any cisgender person would. I identify as a woman so I use the women's restroom. My friend who happens to be transgender is also a woman and uses the women's restroom. It's not that complicated.
Much of the opposition I have come across stems from fear-based bias and discrimination, just as it has for many other restroom-centered debates in our country's history for African-Americans and gay people during the peak of the AIDS crisis. Sound familiar? As a millennial I was not alive for any of these civil rights battles but am still able to see the connection. We've been here before, but as I scroll through the comments section under recent articles highlighting the issue, it seems that the main concern for those unwilling to share a restroom with a trans person comes from a need to assure their own privacy and protection.
I grew up during a time where LGBTQ people had more visibility than ever before and perhaps for that reason I feel that my generation possesses an incredible amount of empathy towards this issue. This is especially important when we know that even in our supposedly more progressive time, according to analysis of FBI data by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the trans community has experienced disproportionate rates of violence. In the first five months of this year, 10 trans people were killed, the majority of them trans women of color and in 2015, at least 21 trans women were killed.
According to a survey conducted in Washington, D.C., and published in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy, in 2013 70% of transgender people have been attacked, harassed or denied access to a bathroom.
Most of us have the empathy to understand that the safety of trans people is at far greater risk than those who fear sharing a bathroom with them. To say that allowing trans people to share a bathroom with you makes you feel unsafe is ignoring the risks to personal safety trans people take whenever they make the decision to use the bathroom of their choice.
The issue is bigger than bathrooms.
Bigotry has effectively become public policy which is where I as a millennial and ally draw the line. We must legislate on the basis of empathy rather than ignorance and only then can we say our country upholds equal rights for all.