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Transgender teen at center of growing controversy for using a locker room

Who deserves to feel safe in bathrooms and locker rooms?

“Everyone” is, of course, the ideal answer. But in the case of one Missouri high school, that may not be possible. A mass walkout protest was staged by 150 students at Hillsboro High over the fact that one of their peers, Lila Perry, had used the girls’ locker room. The problem (for the kids, anyway)? Perry is a girl — and she’s also transgender.

With about 30 other students standing in counterprotest to support Perry, the walkout was joined by angry parents declaring that other female students could not possibly be safe with Perry alongside them in the bathroom and locker room. The protesters carried posters declaring “Girls’ Rights Matter.”

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That’s true, of course, although not the way the protesters mean it. Transgender girls are also girls, after all, and their rights matter too. And the demands for safety (or rather, for the perception of safety) are ignoring another key issue: Transgender people are disproportionately the victims of, not the perpetrators of, sexual assault.

Statistically speaking, almost half of all transgender people will be the target of sexual assault. Half. That’s a rate wildly in excess of what the rest of the population will experience. And that doesn’t account for the vast amount of nonsexual abuse they’ll receive too — Google “transgender sexual assault” if you want a lot of reading material (and a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach).

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And as for transgender people using bathroom and locker room access as a cover to attack others? Try this statistic on for size: More U.S. senators have committed sexual misconduct in a bathroom than have transgender individuals. Of course, that’s not a hard number to trump, since there have been literally zero recorded cases of transgender people attacking cisgender people in these spaces, though sadly the reverse is not true. In fact, transgender people may find themselves attacked for using either bathroom, for failing to meet the rigid expectations for either gender — a girl like Lila Perry is just as likely to find herself in danger using the boys’ bathroom while wearing a dress and jewelry as she is in the girls’ bathroom.

Perry has since dropped out of gym class to avoid locker room incidents, and she tries to avoid using the bathroom while at school (which is not great for either bladder or emotional health). But Perry isn’t confused about who she is. And who she is, is a young woman who is just as deserving of rights and support as any of her classmates.

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