On bathroom battles and allyship

Since my previous post on the potty wars, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has officially weighed in on the transphobic North Carolina Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also known as House Bill 2. She announced a federal civil rights lawsuit to declare the restroom restrictions are “impermissibly discriminatory,” and specifically addressed the transgender community, saying “we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.”

In further news, today the federal Justice and Education departments are sending out a letter to all public school districts, declaring that trans students must be allowed to use facilities in accordance with their gender identities. The letter states, “As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”

These are definitely positive developments. I particularly appreciated Loretta Lynch speaking directly to trans people, and acknowledging that we are moving “haltingly” toward inclusiveness for all people. Her speech was needed and on point.

Here’s the thing though: I have seen a disproportionate amount of praise for allies like Lynch—and I do consider her speech a true act of allyship—compared to the trans people who are actually impacted by this legislation. I even saw one headline refer to her speech as the trans movement’s “Rosa Parks” moment.

Sorry, no. A “Rosa Parks” moment would be a trans woman who does not “pass” as cisgender defiantly using a women’s restroom in North Carolina, against the direct orders of a security guard or police officer. Loretta Lynch is extremely unlikely to be “gender-checked” in a women’s restroom, in any state. As a North Carolina native herself, she may be very upset over her state’s legislation, but she is not personally facing violence from its enforcement.

Allies shouldn’t be held up as heroes, or expect undue praise for their efforts. Ally is a verb. Cis people should perform acts of allyship with trans people simply because that’s the right thing to do. Trans people—and trans women in particular, as they are the primary targets of transphobic legislation—are the ones whose voices need to be heard most in this ridiculous battle over our private parts.

A news clip I saw on CBS about the North Carolina bill was typical in its exclusion of trans voices. Dominated by cis people on both sides of the debate, one trans woman got a 10-second sound bite, where she was introduced as being “born a man.” (Fortunately, the accompanying text story mostly corrected this to say “trans-woman.”) Mainstream news coverage, like the rest of society, is cissexist, and it will take much more public exposure to trans people from all walks of life to make serious progress on gender equality.

Help defeat cissexist and transphobic legislation by elevating trans voices. We all just need to pee.

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