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The Mamafesto: When it comes to students and gender, Texas has it all wrong

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Proposed bill would pay Texas students $2,000 to police gender in bathrooms

For every positive and affirming story about transgender children that makes its way into mainstream media, there are always two more detailing the ways people, organizations or communities are doing everything in their power to stigmatize and vilify trans children. The latest instance takes it to a whole new level, attempting to turn fellow students against their trans peers.

A bill has been proposed in the state of Texas that would make it a crime for a school to allow a child of one gender to use a bathroom assigned to the opposite gender. The bill, sponsored by Republican Gilbert Peña, goes even further, stating that students who feel they've suffered any "mental anguish" from sharing a bathroom with a trans student can collect up to $2,000. In addition, the bill states that schools are not required to create or provide any alternative bathroom accommodations, and will essentially bar trans students from using appropriate school bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities.

The targeting and stigmatizing aspects of this bill are absolutely horrific, not just because it's just one more public policy attempting to police trans folks, but also because it concerns children. Trans men and women are already at a higher risk for becoming victims of violence and assault. And many transgender youth find themselves the victims of hate crimes as well. Bills like this one proposed in Texas aren't helping anyone and in fact put trans youth at greater risk, especially when faced with what is essentially a $2,000 bounty on their heads.

I'm not sure what Peña thinks happens in school bathrooms and what is wrong with a trans girl using the girls' bathroom. What is he afraid of? What "mental anguish" does he think might occur? What does he think elementary school children are capable of? From everything I've seen, children — in particular — are actually a whole lot more understanding, caring and welcoming to differences until they're taught otherwise. Children don't have these fears and biases within them until somebody teaches them to be afraid of somebody who may be different. It should also be noted that in actuality, when kids — especially elementary-aged ones — are going to the bathroom, they're not really thinking about the genitals of the kid peeing next to them.

All this bill serves to do is to further the divide between trans and cis children by not only making it illegal for trans students to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in, but to let cis children think it is OK to exploit somebody else for a small payday. Trans children are already faced with enough challenges to last a lifetime. Now people in Texas are trying to add one more. One they will have to endure every day in the school system — a place where learning and support should be occurring, not closed-minded bigotry.

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