The debate over gender identity and bathrooms
Published: 24 May 2016 (GMT+10)
On May 13, the Obama administration released a federal directive to public schools in the US regarding student access to bathrooms1 requiring schools to allow students to use whichever bathroom and locker room facilities align with the perceived gender identity of the student. Similar things are happening in other countries as well.
First, some preliminary comments. CMI is not a political organization, especially since as an international organization, regional political affiliations in one country would not apply elsewhere. However, we comment when something in the political realm directly contradicts biblical teaching (that is, God-defined gender and the bounds of sexual unions). Another area that is often politicized but which has direct biblical application is the issue of abortion and euthanasia. So we comment on this issue as Christians, not as politically-motivated individuals.
Second, this is an attempt to make school easier for a very, very small minority of students who struggle with gender-identity issues. It should (but often can’t) go without saying that everyone should feel safe at school, and we are naturally against any bullying or marginalizing of any student for any reason. Scripture teaches us to be kind and share the Gospel with such people, in fact, all people. However, it is not kind to affirm something that isn’t true.
Does Title IX require gender-neutral bathrooms?
First, Title IX was passed in 1972 to ensure that girls received equal opportunities to boys in schools. Ironically, when this bill was passed it was mainly to protect girls’ rights. However, this current edict now makes girls vulnerable by allowing biological males into their bathrooms. The 1972 law also never prohibited, for example, boys’ teams and girls’ teams, or boys’ and girls’ living facilities, or boys’ and girls’ clubs. And even though the Obama administration document states, “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and its implementing regulations prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance. This prohibition encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status”, Title IX does not even include the words “gender” or “identity”, together or separately.
Second, the document specifically prohibits one of the most common-sense solutions that both respect the difficult situation of the transgender student and the comfort of the other students—i.e. offering individual bathrooms and changing facilities. Anyone who remembers being in a public school would regard that as a privilege and an ‘upgrade’ from the often-terrible ‘all-in-the-open’ locker room experience for uncomfortable students. But the Obama administration regards the right to personal privacy as unacceptable discrimination. This is yet another worrying trend, as it exemplifies that governments are not allowing any room for dissenting voices because ‘discrimination’ of any sort is not acceptable. The US Supreme Court’s ruling on ‘gay marriage’ overturned states’ rights on this matter, and even religious protection or exemptions for businesses who refuse to conduct or participate in gay weddings on the grounds of personal conscience or religious beliefs have been struck down or vetoed.
We should have nothing but compassion for students experiencing this very rare condition. But we should also respect the right of biological girls to not be exposed in front of biological boys. Even if that boy has a ‘female gender identity’, any sane person, and certainly any sane woman, would understand the visceral discomfort of the situation that recently caused a whole school’s female student body along with their parents to protest about a boy being allowed in the girl’s locker room. Boys and girls should have a right to privacy in situations where they are more vulnerable such as in locker rooms and bathrooms.
What is ‘gender-identity’? Is it ‘redefining’ or ‘undefining’?
Gender-identity is simply a term that describes what sex someone ‘feels like’ regardless of what their birth sex is, and to allow them to express that feeling. When someone’s gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex, this is actually a condition known as Gender Dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder (GID), included in the DSM-5, a diagnostic manual for mental illness.2 And like the issue of same sex attraction, there is no evidence that gender dysphoria has a genetic component, although researchers continue to look for one.
In our booklet Gay marriage: right or wrong? we discussed the concept of same-sex marriage actually being an ‘undefinition’ of marriage, rather than a simple ‘redefinition’. That is, marriage has always been between one man and one woman because reproduction requires one man and one woman. Even in polygamous societies, where one man had marriages with multiple women; the wives weren’t married to each other. Even societies like ancient Rome, which allowed various types of homosexual activity, did not have anything like ‘gay marriage’. We also predicted that the gay marriage issue would be ‘a line in sand issue’ for the church, because even religious dissent would not be allowed. How true this has become in such a short amount of time.
In a similar way, decoupling ‘gender’ from biological sex is undefining what male and female actually are. If a ‘girl’ can actually have the biological hardware of a boy, or a ‘boy’ have the biological hardware of a girl, what exactly are girls and boys? In fact, recently a Youtube video demonstrated the inability of various college students to tell a white man why he was not an Asian woman, and many of them actually said that if that’s what he felt like, as long as he wasn’t hurting anyone, why not?
The ‘all gender’ bathroom issue is really an insidious development. While most bathrooms in businesses are currently private rooms (see picture at top), it is rare that such private bathrooms exist in schools. The unfortunate experience of a young female being exposed to biological males (regardless of whether that male ‘feels’ he is a female) is a high possibility. And being exposed to such images at a young age can have damaging and long term effects on a child in the same way as if being exposed to pornographic images or even sexual abuse. And while it is true that young females are unlikely to be molested by gender confused males, what is to stop a male sexual predator masquerading as a ‘female’? This has already happened.3
How should we respond?
The possibilities for exploitation and damage to our children are frightening. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). More than ever it is our Christian duty and responsibility to protect the most innocent ones under our care, and this includes not legitimizing gender confusion, or same-sex marriage, or anything else that takes away from the Creator’s ordained roles for us. As such we have a responsibility to lovingly engage culture in these controversial areas.
A primary concern should be for Christian parents to protect their children. If your child is in public school, do you know if your school district would currently allow a biological male to use the girls’ bathroom, or vice versa? If it currently protects the right of boys and girls to privacy in the bathroom, is your school district prepared to stand up to the federal government? If not, many Christian parents will want to look at the multiple other education options such as online public school, homeschooling, or Christian schools, or even consider banding together to veto the school in favor of one supporting your views. One reason the government can issue this directive is because schools receive public funding, which can be withheld if schools do not cooperate. Because Christian schools and other private education options are not subsidized by the government, they are largely exempt from this sort of political pressure. In a democratic society Christians (who make up a large percentage of the population in the US) need to voice their own views on the matter. Religious freedoms must be maintained.
Schools should be a safe place for learning for all children, for the rare gender-confused student as well as their classmates. It is a concern that in order to make transgender children feel comfortable, the government is now attempting to mandate the school’s cooperation in this fiction, even to the detriment of the vast majority of students.
This directive is a humanistic attack against the categories of male and female that God created, and Christians have a duty to affirm the biological reality of the gender binary, even if the culture becomes increasingly opposed to it.
The ultimate answer, of course, is the Gospel, which has the power to change hearts and minds far beyond what our ability to change laws in the culture might be. It is encouraging to remember that Christianity emerged when the Roman world was far more debauched than the Western world can even imagine today, yet the Gospel of Jesus Christ transformed the culture then, and it can do so again.