A restless throng of people, young and old, male, female, and more, packed into a stuffy library on September 11, 2023. What they watched was democracy unfolding before their eyes. On the anniversary of a tragedy that pulled America together, the people of Perkiomen Valley School District did nothing but drive each other apart. But what massive, controversial issue could have sparked such melodrama within the district? The answer is bathrooms.
That’s right, the new battlefield of the divisive culture war engulfing Perkiomen Valley is our school bathrooms. In early September, Policy 720, requiring students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex rather than their gender identity, was proposed to PVHS’ School Board. The proposal, which narrowly failed to pass as official school policy in the fiery Sep. 11 meeting, is nothing but thinly veiled bigotry designed to marginalize an already marginalized group.
The match igniting this inferno upon Perkiomen Valley was a simple Facebook post, written by the father of a PVHS student, discussing how uncomfortable and unsafe his daughter felt when she saw a ‘male’ student in the girls’ bathroom. The father in the post described his daughter’s experience as causing her to no longer want to use the school bathrooms. This post thus raised two principal concerns levied by those supporting the proposal: safety and comfort for students.
The issue of comfort within school bathrooms is a completely invalid concern. While students certainly have a right to feel comfortable in school bathrooms, there is no fair way to legislate comfort for those who feel uncomfortable around other groups. Under the 2020 Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, discrimination on the basis of one’s identity as transgender is gender discrimination, making it illegal. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, from which the aforementioned case derived its legal weight, any discrimination on the basis of sex or race is illegal. We as a school district cannot under any circumstances prevent trans students from using the bathroom of their choice without raising concerns of its legality. Now imagine if that same student said that she felt uncomfortable because she saw a Black female student in the girls’ bathroom. The School Board would certainly not jump to create a policy segregating bathrooms by race. What makes doing virtually the same thing against transgender students right?
The issue of safety offers slightly stronger arguments in favor of the proposed policy. We at The Voice have spoken to several students who support the new policy, including those who walked out on Sep. 15 to voice their support. Many of these students were concerned about the possibility of transgender students or even cisgender boys abusing the policy in order to harm girls in the girls’ bathroom. This concern, unlike the dog whistle of comfort, is a valid concern raised by students that uses critical thinking rather than veiled transphobia. However, this concern is once again nullified by the fact that no incidents of trans students harming girls in school bathrooms have occurred in the years that the current bathroom policy has been in place. Even the ‘male’ using the girls’ bathroom in the aforementioned Facebook post did not harm or assault the female student.
This once again points to the troubling fact that in considering this proposal, our school board is not concerned about addressing student safety, but rather aiming to target trans students. If they were truly concerned about keeping students safe in each bathroom, they could easily implement other policies that do not alienate transgender students. For instance, they could assign security guards to monitor bathrooms at all times to protect students and prevent incidents. In reality, the Board is attempting to pass a policy that targets trans students and prevents them from expressing themselves as they wish, all while trumpeting it under the banner of keeping students safe and comfortable.
The failure of the proposal to pass in the Sep. 11 meeting is not the end of this troubling story. The policy stands to be further reviewed by legal experts and School Board members before being considered again in the future. We as a community must stand together to protect the transgender students among us from being unfairly targeted and violated by this proposal. All students deserve to feel safe and comfortable in the confines of this school, but one group’s comfort cannot be given at the cost of another’s identity.