My Opinion: Bathroom battles open another divide

It shouldn’t be impossible to reach bathroom-use policies that protect all students’ rights, and safety.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

All right-thinking people want to protect children — especially our own. That instinct explains much of the passion, even anger, around the debate over which bathrooms or locker rooms should be available to transgender kids.

The visceral reaction of opponents reminds me of a period, some years ago, when my daughter was continually bullied on a school bus by a delinquent-in-training posing as a middle school boy.

Among other hostilities, he publicly threatened to “rape” or “shank” her.

Privacy laws meant I never learned what, if anything, school administrators did to address the matter. But I did a little addressing of my own. One day, as the school bus stopped at our house, I planted myself on our porch – arms folded, glowering, scanning the bus windows. Street instinct led my eyes to the mini-bully. Holding his gaze, I slowly mouthed a very clear, quite-explicit threat of the most-physical kind.

Apparently, he could read lips – as he never again bothered my daughter.

I say that to note that paternal protectiveness vividly colors how I view the ongoing brawl that is the Bathroom Battles of 2016. To be blunt, I generally dislike true criminals — and, especially, violent predators.

That said, personally I don’t get the visceral, vehement backlash around efforts to reasonably accommodate transgender kids in school bathrooms and locker rooms. There has to be some hassle-minimal way to accomplish this. Using single-person facilities as an option could work, I’d think. I suspect, too, that today’s kids overall may already be ahead of the adults in being comfortable with transgender restroom access.

As a guy reared in a family of cops, my gut tells me there’s likely inconsequential risk, if any, to public safety from updating potty policies to reflect what’s a modern reality.

Actually, it’s been a reality for a long time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jay Bookman reminded us last week that female soldiers passed as men as far back as the Revolutionary War.

And, personally, I remember well the first transgender kid I ever encountered. I was 12 years old, attending a Baptist youth rally in the 1970s South. Wandering into an outdoor hamburger joint, I spotted a kid who was clearly born a boy. However, he wore a woman’s bell-bottom pantsuit of the era and matching blouse. And he effected decidedly female mannerisms.

Despite my unsophisticated, open-mouthed staring, the other rally kids eating alongside him saw nothing out of the ordinary. I shouldn’t have either. Whatever bathroom he used, I don’t recall it being a big deal.

Nearly half a century later, the same issue has flashed-over into full flame. It’s one more matter where the practical effect seems unworthy of the divide-deepening arguments and discord. As if we didn’t have enough of that already in an election year that’s scraping new depths of boorish behavior within both major political parties.

Social conservatives are frantically seeking to hold society where it is by banning transgendered people from the bathrooms or locker rooms of the sex with which they identify. I don’t believe such efforts will succeed in changing behavior or fixing any problems. Nor do I believe those who’re the intended subjects of laws such as North Carolina’s HB 2, will go quietly back into society’s closet marked “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The Obama Administration is now fighting a war of words and lawyering with North Carolina over this issue. Georgia GOP lawmakers are railing against what they see as another example of government usurpation of local control. School officials, for the most part, have so far appropriately sought to balance – and safeguard — student rights, safety and privacy.

As has been the case throughout American history, the courts will, across time, play a large role in deciding this matter. Given all the abundant noise, the prospect of dispassionate, sober judicial consideration is comforting.

I do understand the emotion, though. What upright soul doesn’t worry about public safety, especially that of children?

Yet the pragmatic citizen – and parent – in me thinks about all of the existing felony statutes against sexual assault. If they can’t fully dissuade criminal intent, what practical good can come from feel-good, Paper Tiger laws governing who – literally – goes where? If long-gone laws enabling the death penalty for rape couldn’t eliminate such violence, how can far- less-punitive potty laws be of any measurable effect?

We should, in my opinion, have more important things to worry about.