When Fear Threatens Safety


Back to school. Hard to miss with pictures of kids littering our Facebook walls and aisles of the big box stores filled with pencils, binders, and glue sticks.

Oh yes, and of course the return of fear of transgender kids in bathrooms.

On Sunday night, just as school was about to start for many students in the country, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor blocked the order from the justice department saying that all students should be allowed to use the bathrooms of their chosen identity.

For parents everywhere, the first days of school are filled with lots of emotions. Make sure the kids have all of the supplies that they need. New lunch boxes, new backpacks, new shoes. Then the quick run out to the store to pick up the things that you forgot about. Fill out all of the forms, finding the kids’ social security cards because who can remember that many numbers, and wondering why can’t they keep this stuff on file so you don’t have to fill out the same thing every year?

You schedule a coffee date with another friend because it’s the first morning you’ve had free since June. You clean the living room and look at it sparkle for hours because there is no one there to mess it up. You catch up on laundry. You finally binge Orange is the New Black because there are no little people around who might be corrupted by prison boobs.

Of course, there are fears that accompany first days as well. Will my child like their teachers? Will their teachers like them? Will they be able to make friends? All questions that boil down to the ultimate question, Will my child be safe?

When we start to talk about the issue of bathrooms and transgender individuals, the issue of safety is often one that is quickly raised. While I do not believe that plays into the decisions of law-makers or talking heads regarding most anti-transgender bathroom bills, it would be both naive and dismissive to assume that safety doesn’t cross the mind of parents of cis-gendered kids. When politicians and pundits expatiate on the the dangerous “man in a dress” coming to rape your child, fears naturally arise.

But fear is not always based on truth. In fact, it is often not based on truth.

There have been long-standing fears about integration in schools. From black students being escorted by federal troops to a high school in Arkansas in 1957, to white parents opposing busing of black students to primarily white schools in 2014, we have seen fear play a role in the discussion of desegregating schools. Yet the evidence shows that integrating schools benefits both black and white children.

There have been fears about the mainstreaming of students with disabilities. Children with special needs often received no education at all before 1975, but we now see that there are benefits to all when special needs children are included in neurotypical class settings.

The problem is, when we hold onto our fears, we stigmatize the people who are on the outside. Black children are assumed to be a threat to white students, to they are called thugs. Autistic children are assumed to be a drain on resources for neurotypical children, so they are isolated. Fear causes us to believe the worst about people, which often causes people to believe the worst about themselves.

Nearly 46% of transgender students attempt suicide. When students are denied access to the bathrooms of their expressed gender, those rates rise to over 60%. They can result in urinary tract infections, dehydration, and kidney problems from avoiding the bathroom. People who already feel discomfort with their bodies have additional shame piled on, simply for needing to pee in school.

Ultimately, there have been zero attacks by transgender students on cisgender students in bathrooms. Zero.

Our emotions absolutely have value. Teaching our children caution in public spaces is wise. But these laws do nothing to save cisgender children, and at the same time, they significantly increase the risk to transgender children.

All parents ask themselves in one way or another if their child will be safe at school. No matter our situation, we all want our kids to be free from danger. But we need to ask ourselves if our fears are justified, and if they are causing harm to other children as well. Parenting is hard no matter what. Let’s work together to keep all of our children protected by not allowing our fears to threaten the safety of others.

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