Opinion: The bathroom battle is a front for intolerance

PPTA News guest columnist Lizzie Marvelly on bathrooms for gender diverse students and how educational institutes have an opportunity to create a more accepting society

Lizzie Marvelly small columnpic full rights no attribution needed7

Every now and then, I’m afforded the dubious honour of being summoned into the bowels of YouTube by conservative lobby group Family First. Recently, Bob McCoskrie’s lot sent me a video about AUT’s decision to make a number of their bathrooms gender neutral. Naturally, they’re incensed about it.
I’ve never quite understood the kerfuffle around toilets. Like death and taxes, bathrooms are a fact of life, and as people of all genders have to, ahem, excrete, we all need to use them.

I’m not sure what kind of toileting procedures the members of Family First subscribe to, but I’ve never spent more time in a bathroom than is necessary. The idea that gender segregated toilets are some kind of hallowed haven is news to me.

Especially in a school context. I can remember a handful of embarrassing occasions in school toilets, usually involving girls peering over the top of a toilet cubicle or, in primary school, shoving their heads through the gap beneath the door. Yes. Girls. Not transgender students. Not boys. Girls. Who are quite capable of being inappropriately curious, or cruel.

Which seems to me to be pertinent in this discussion. Any student who violates another student’s personal space through voyeurism, abuse or purposeful intimidation, regardless of their gender, deserves to face the consequences of their actions.

But no student deserves to be singled out as a potential ‘threat’ simply because of their gender identity.

To my mind, the bathroom debate has become something of a straw man argument – a diversion intended to distract from the larger issue of LGBTQ+ acceptance and the barriers people in the rainbow community still face. The simple fact of the matter is that there is no bathroom sign in the world that is going to prevent a determined sex offender from entering a bathroom for the purpose of committing a crime. That sad reality has absolutely nothing to do with LGBTQ+ rights.

The question must be asked: What is lurking behind the notion that cisgender people would feel ‘unsafe’ around a transgender person? What’s at thoot of this ‘fear’? Is it ignorance? Bias? The influence of a transphobic relative or friend?

Just as no child is born racist, it’s highly likely that nurture trumps nature when it comes to anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes. It’s important that we call a spade a spade. Believing that a trans student poses some kind of danger to cisgender students simply because of their gender identity is an irrational and discriminative attitude that needs to be examined and challenged. It’s also one that has the completely opposite effect of creating an environment in which transgender students may feel very unsafe.

Educational institutions have an opportunity to be leaders in creating a more accepting society, and a number of schools are already doing great work. The world is a complicated place, made up of diverse and unique people, and schools are no different.

If young Kiwis are given the chance to grow up in an environment where diversity is welcomed, where they’re encouraged to scrutinise their own biases and openly discuss issues that they may find confusing, the Aotearoa of the future will be in great hands. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether it’s a tougher task educating some of the adults in extended school communities than the kids.

So let’s not get bogged down in the bathroom battle – being, as it is, a proxy war for good old-fashioned bigotry.

Fear and ignorance have passed their use-by date. It’s time for us to work together to build a more open-minded future.

Photo credit: Artaxerxes (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons 

 This article will appear in the May/June issue of PPTA News (Volume 38, number 3) 

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 May 2017 14:21