Times Herald-Record: It’s about protecting human rights

Times Herald-Record, editorial, May 17

In what has been perhaps the most bizarre presidential campaign in this nation’s history, a bizarre diversionary issue has cropped up to grab the public’s attention.

Last week, the president of the United States found it necessary to issue a directive stating that public schools — all public schools — must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity. This White House acknowledgement of basic rights for transgender people was made necessary by the denial of such rights by the state of North Carolina.

That state’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill that requires bathroom usage based on the sex stated on a person’s birth certificate. North Carolina’s Republican governor signed it and has defended it. Fear and ignorance, which have played a prominent role in the Republican presidential campaign, are also at the heart of this legislation.

“It’s about the perception that men that dress like women are pedophiles and they go into girls bathrooms looking to do them harm,” says Genna Suraci. “That’s like classifying all priests as pedophiles.” Suraci is the award-winning, longtime principal of the Career and Technical Center of Ulster BOCES in Port Ewen. She began her sex change transition from male to female in 2007.

“Nobody does this out of a fantasy,” Suraci says. “They do it out of necessity, out of a feeling that’s deeply rooted from when you’re born.”

The North Carolina law, as well as similar laws in Mississippi, ignore the fact that there is no evidence any transgender woman has assaulted a girl in a bathroom, the justification for the legislation. There is no issue.

Yet even in New York, which prides itself as a leader in protecting human rights, a bill outlawing discrimination against transgender persons in all areas of their lives, not just which bathroom they use, has been stalled in the state Legislature. Last week, the Assembly, controlled by Democrats, voted for the ninth time to outlaw discrimination against transgender people. The companion bill has never made it to the floor for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate

While Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order including gender identity in the state’s civil rights law, making it illegal to discriminate against transgender persons over jobs, loans, schools and public accommodations, a future governor could reverse that order, hence the bill.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Health Committee chairman and sponsor of the bill, said, “Transgender rights are human rights. It’s an embarrassment to New Yorkers that 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity, while (it) can’t even get a vote in our State Senate. While North Carolina and other states try to roll back progress by attacking transgender rights, New York should stand up for common sense, fairness and justice.”

Exactly. Politicians do have an obligation to respond to the concerns of their constituents, but transgender bathroom use has hardly been a major voter issue. Besides, there’s another obligation some politicians have apparently forgotten — to inform constituents of the facts on an issue and not merely respond to fear and ignorance with harmful legislation. It’s called leadership.