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click to enlarge Gov. Asa Hutchinson - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson

President Obama gave Republicans a gift last week. His administration reminded school districts that the law requires that students be allowed to use restroom and locker facilities that match their gender identity.

The president did no more than state controlling statute, rule and legal precedent, including a recent decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was prompted by actions in North Carolina, particularly, to require students to use restrooms that comport with their genitalia at birth, not their gender identity. (It's unclear what North Carolina would require of the small number of children born ambiguously on the biological spectrum. Do it in the road?)

The president's announcement included this important phrase: "A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy." My emphasis.

Republicans already were using bathroom hysteria as a wedge issue in massive resistance to equal rights for lesbians and gays. A black president edges into sexual matters? Strike up "Dixie" and put a 1950s newsreel on the projector. Justice Jim Johnson would have admired how Arkansas politicians rushed to boil race and sex into a hateful stew.

Gov. Hutchinson said the president's announcement was "offensive, intrusive and lacking in common sense." Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin called it "ridiculous." Attorney General Leslie Rutledge called it an "abuse of power." And they claim to be lawyers. Only in the GOP is obeying the law an abuse of power.

The average child is at greater risk from a priest, Baptist minister, teacher or coach than a transgender person seeking a public bathroom stall. See: just about any daily newspaper.

The Republican outcry raised two essential questions: 1) Do Republicans believe there is such a thing as gender dysphoria — the feeling that one's sex is different from one's biological sex? Science says it's real, but Republicans aren't strong on science. 2) Have the protestors ever knowingly met a transgender person?

One study says about three-tenths of 1 percent of people are transgender, or about 1,500 of Arkansas's public school children, an average of one per school. But the number that has made the transition is almost certainly smaller. Personal confusion, fear and fallout — beginning at home — discourage it.

The Republicans are preying on fear about a problem that doesn't exist. There IS evidence, however, of cruelty against trans people, and demagoguery will only encourage more. I was told recently of a woman who tried to enter a Capitol women's restroom. She was challenged by a toilet vigilante because of her slender, boyish build and clothing. She fled rather than drop her trousers.

My trans acquaintances include someone I knew as a child as, let's say, Maxine. Maxine is now a handsome adult named Max, with a neatly trimmed beard. Do Asa Hutchinson, Tim Griffin and Leslie Rutledge really want Max to use the little girls' room?

No, what they really want is to discriminate. Thanks to them, we have two state laws aimed at discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Constitution's equal protection clause means little to them. They want to protect legal discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations, from restaurants to photo studios.

The desire to discriminate — whether against gays, women, immigrants or black people — is a far bigger threat to individual well-being than the rare trans person hoping to perform a bodily function in a closed bathroom stall.

An acute observation I saw on the Internet: Those accustomed to privilege see equality as oppression. I'd add: The corollary for those without privilege and equality should be obvious.

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