Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has recently made news by planning to meet for dinner with an 8-year-old transgender boy and his mother, who hope to help him see the human element of the transgender cultural debate.
Patrick, a staunchly conservative Republican, has made headlines for opposing President Obama’s directive that schools allow students to use restrooms according to their gender identity. He was one of the first prominent politicians to do so. He and the rest of the Texas Republican leadership strongly condemned the guidelines on both moral and legal grounds. Governor Greg Abbott went so far as to tweet on May 17 that:
“JFK wanted to send a man to the moon. Obama wants to send a man to the women’s restroom. We must get our country back on track.”
This historic move by the president would allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their personal gender identity, an action praised by prominent LGBT rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign.
Patrick, however, directed the schools in Texas not to adhere to these standards, claiming that Obama’s directive was a top-down push that ignored local governments. Besides the legality issue, Patrick, during an interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, stated that the measures would cause chaos in schools and that it would go against common sense and common decency.
He went so far as to demand the termination of the Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent for enacting similar guidelines for transgender students.
Patrick’s decision to meet with a transgender child is an important move for someone who consistently misgenders transgender individuals and paints a broad picture of transgender women as rapists intending to use bathroom laws to assault women.
I believe that Patrick’s opinions on transgender children’s use of bathrooms should be met with criticism.
This kind of fear mongering about a minority group of people is not only dishonest, but it is also extreme.
It is possible to argue against transgender rights without stooping to this level of unfounded reasoning. By reducing transgender women to men who are trying to infiltrate women’s restrooms, he is insulting a whole group of people for their very existence.
Hopefully this meeting will shift the implications of his rhetoric. The human element of the issue cannot be ignored solely because there is a disagreement.
According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program’s website, more than 50 percent of transgender youth will have attempted suicide at least once before age 20. That is not okay. Treating transgender individuals in a derogatory manner, which is statistically rampant, will only lead to more of the same.
Another potential takeaway from this meeting is to realize the importance of disagreeing in a civil manner, as opposed to vitriolic extremism. Especially in disagreements on issues concerning individuals who are members of minority groups, it is important to keep the dialogue free from obscene stereotypes and generalizations that hurt marginalized people, even if you do not agree with what they are doing or promoting.
Even in a majority conservative state like Texas, transgender individuals are a part of the community and should be a part of the discussion about their rights and needs.
To do this, there must be an understanding of gender theory, even if you personally do not agree. Calling Caitlyn Jenner “Bruce” does not help you advocate your position. Respecting another person’s chosen name and being respectful of them as a person is a part of good communication. No one would demand to call Lady Gaga by her real name, so why should trans people be denied their chosen names?
While it is okay to disagree, and important to have dialogue, it is imperative to have these disagreements and arguments based on legitimate concerns without being hateful. There is very little evidence that chaos will ensue should transgender students be allowed to use the same restrooms as their cisgender classmates.
More human dialogue, and less political posturing, is an important step in a time in which Americans are becoming more polarized than ever on key issues. It is important for politicians, but just as imperative for citizens of any political persuasion to focus on bettering this kind of human dialogue.