Making the Case: Part 2
One of the unusual features of this particular series of articles is that rather than having a progressive precept-upon-precept nature as my previous series did, this will of necessity be a more dynamic progression as current events will from time to time provide an example of the sort of challenges we’ll have to deal with. This is not the entry I promised last time but it’s the one events have demanded.
This past week’s events provides a perfect example. Over the past couple of months the public debate about trans people has exploded into the public consciousness to a much greater degree. The confluance of events which culminated in the Huston HERO vote in November was only the early thunder that signified the oncoming storm. Beginning with the Charlotte City Council’s attempt to add sexual orientation and gender identity to it’s non-discrimination ordinance, things have snowballed to a point where for better or worse the momentum is out of anyone’s control. The state of North Carolina overturned Charlotte’s action, drawing upon itself the collective disapproval of businesses and individuals across the country but these reactions only served to draw a bright line of conflict as the culture warrior Republicans in many states across the south and central portions of the country rushed to declare their allegiance to tradition in deference to politically powerful right wing “Christian” profiteer organizations.
In the tumbling rush of events that followed, including the Target proclamation and subsequent pledge drive by AFA the latest cresting wave is the “Dear Collogues” letter of guidance issued jointly by the Departments of Justice and Education on May 13 that provoked swift and irrational outrage among right wing politicians and ill-informed parents and “concerned citizens.” This was, of course, not the first interaction between trans-affirming policies and public schools, just a manifestation of the oppositions concerted effort to reduce the entire conversation about the legitimacy of trans equality down to inflammatory rhetoric about restrooms. So how do we respond to the seemingly ever present debate dancing on the raw nerves of “safety of our children” emotional rhetoric?
First, as always, KEEP CALM. You CANNOT “out emotion” the opposition on this discussion, if choices are made emotionally we WILL LOSE the debate.
Secondly, remember that the most vocal opponents you encounter are NOT your target audience. Often such people are irrationally invested in their position, either in emotional ignorance or in callous indifference to the facts because they are pursuing a political goal. Don’t be frustrated if such folks are implacable. The real target audience is the passing reader who’s undecided. When they read your input, and that of your opponent, it’s necessary that YOU appear to be both the rational one and the kind and compassionate one. I know that a lot of my political allies in this debate love to barnstorm into a thread and say “all you idiots and your sky daddy fairy tale!” and while that might give you emotional satisfaction it alienates people we need – and I do not mean the “idiots” you are attacking but rather the reader who may never post at all.
Third, facts are stubborn things. When you come across relevant facts which cite reliable sources, bookmark those resources. One of my future entries will be a link-dump of sources relevant to these discussions. The Pharisees try to turn the entire spectrum of non-discrimination protections into a “bathroom bill” debate, so there’s a need to shoot that down but don’t get sucked into letting them define it as only about bathrooms. Citations of other sorts of discrimination trans people suffer is relevant and helpful.
With that said, here’s the foundational information, confined for the sake of THIS post to the school discussion, since the broader “bathroom bill” conversation (which is itself merely a small subtext of non-discrimination law and policy) is often inappropriately mingled with the school discussion. Don’t let them get away with saying “grown men showering with little girls” in the school debate. Adults coaches don’t shower with the students (and if they do that’s a policy change that should happen) and it’s not like random strangers come in off the street to shower at the local middle school. The do this because they are parroting the rhetoric used most notoriously by Ted Cruz, but which is also widespread by political operatives determined to set the terms of the discussion in the most inflammatory verbiage possible. So you may have to exercise effort to control the narrative to a tighter focus on facts specific to the school.
One of the most foundational point is that they will frame it in belligerent confrontational language. They say Obama is “ordering” these changes and “forcing” schools to “comply” under threat of “blackmail” and so forth. Even mainstream journalists use the term “directive” and, in fact, it is none of these things. The reality is that there’s been ongoing internal policy changes at the Federal level for as much as five years no in terms of how the word “sex” is understood in Title VII (regarding employment discrimination) and Title IX (which applies to schools). This can be traced back at least as far as Macy v. Holder in 2011. There have been various manifestations of these policy changes since but not enough formalization of policy giving schools a complete sense of the expectations that FedGov might have in terms of complying with Title IX. Because of this lack of clarity, the National Association of Secondary School Principals ASK the relevant agencies to speak with one voice and CLARIFY the already existing policy.
In response to this the Departments of Justice and Education jointly authored a “Dear Colleagues” letter of guidance which communicated to schools “this is our interpretation of the law” and went on to identify for administrators the “best practices” already being employed in school districts with a pre-existing non-discrimination policy. From this fact flows two other important streams of fact. One is that what is happening here is an entirely routine set of events in terms of how different levels of government interact. Existing case law, as confirmed by two separate Supreme Court rulings (one written by Justice Stevens, the other by Justice Scalia, so the base of support could not be more broad) states that Federal Agencies are owed “great deference” in interpreting the laws which they are charged with enforcing and the regulatory rules which are set up to enforce those laws. Likewise, the use of withholding Federal money in order to pressure lower levels of government is a standard practice going back decades (for example, in the 70’s that exact same pressure was used to push states to adopt the 55 MPH speed limit). This is not some dictatorial new tactic invented out of whole cloth by the present administration. But you’ll find that political activists make truth the first sacrifice on the alter of their goals.
The other related point is that on a local level, these policies are not new. Just as the first city wide non-discrimination ordinance covering trans people was passed way back in 1975, the beginnings of these policies in the schools went largely unremarked upon. Los Angeles United School District is usually cited as the first major school district to make it official policy to recognize the validity and equality of the gender identity of trans students, and that took effect in 2004. Nationwide an estimated 1.5 million students already attend schools in hundreds of districts – and some whole states such as California – and this is a crucial fact. The refrain of our opponents is consistently one heavily weighted towards speculation and supposition. While they do tend to toss out “it’s already happening” while citing irrelevant or fictitious cases, the main body of their case is “this bad thing is bound to happen” or “this makes it possible for bad things to happen” all derived from their “common sense” view that all men are potential predators (nevermind they take little interest in rape culture in places where sexual violence actually occurs) but this angle can be opposed by pointing out that we have abundant evidence of the effect of these policies in schools where they are already in force. Thus if you, my opponent, in your “common sense” believe these policies will end in harm befalling students, then it is on you to go out and find examples of that having happened.
Which is a daunting task – because no such case exists.
Photo credit: Decorative Concrete Kingdom