Porky’s Revenge: Gender Identity and School Bathrooms

Remember Porky’s?  I looked it up, and found a surprisingly thorough plot summary on Wikipedia.  Before I looked it up, though, I had only a hazy memory from my teenage years of a group of boys trying to look into a girl’s shower.

According to some conservative commentators, the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) has sunk to Porky’s level in a misguided attempt to avoid discrimination.

In November, 2011, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  If someone identifies as something other than the gender that person was assigned at birth, whether as a male, female, neither, or other, that person may not be discriminated against in any way.

Recently, MDOE issued some guidelines for school implementation of the new law in public schools.  Public schools must make all students feel welcome and valued, regardless of gender identity.

Predictably, some commentators focused first on the restroom ramifications of the new law.

Writing for Fox News, Todd Starnes noted that parents reacted with outrage to the notion that someone born as a boy could identify as a girl and use the girls’ restroom, or vice versa.  Starnes also critiqued the rule’s enforcement policy.  If a student does not adequately recognize a fellow student’s gender identity—in the way the fellow student wishes—he or she could face punishment for bullying.  That is, if a student calls a fellow student “he,” or a “boy,” when the fellow student identifies as a “girl,” or “neither,” it could count as bullying.

One parent told Starnes, “It doesn’t treat all students the same. . . .  It has a greater preference to gender-identifying children. That concerns me a great deal.”

In the pages of Public Discourse, lawyers Adam J. McCloud and Andrew Beckwith took a different approach.  This sort of policy overreach, McCloud and Beckwith insist, is nothing more than a predictable outgrowth of America’s penchant for redefining marriage.

Changes in law and principle can take a while to unfold as policy and practice, they note.  “Redefining marriage to eliminate sexual complementarity as an essential characteristic,” they argue,

“doesn’t automatically commit a state to forcing girls to share locker rooms with boys. But there is a logical connection. One of the premises justifying the redefinition of marriage also grounds these new regulations, that is, the view that sexual difference is irrelevant to the practice of marriage.

“But if sexual difference is irrelevant to marriage, then how can it be relevant to any practices? Once the state has determined that sexual difference is no longer a legitimate reason to extend special recognition to man-woman monogamy, there is no reason in principle to maintain sexual distinctions in less intimate practices. If one’s anatomical reality isn’t relevant to one’s marriage, it’s even less obvious why it should be relevant to one’s bathroom choice.”

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3 Comments

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