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Bills to restrict the rights of transgender Mainers appear to be headed for defeat in the Maine Legislature. As they should be.
However, the discussion around these bills was harmful and hurtful. And it was unnecessary.
Three bills — two to restrict the participation of transgender girls in school sports and one to reject transgender women from women’s emergency shelters — were part of a nationwide push to marginalize transgender Americans.
It is heartening that Maine lawmakers are likely to reject these efforts. Beyond this, however, it is past time to change the conversation around transgender Americans.
We don’t mean to be hurtful by bringing up some of the arguments made in Augusta and elsewhere. But, these falsehoods need to be dispelled.
Gender identity is not as simple as being either a man or a woman. As explained in an essay in Scientific American, our genetics and biology aren’t as simple as XX or XY chromosomes, as we may have learned in biology class. The genes that trigger the development of our sexual organs may send differing signals, and those signals may change over time. Then there is the influence of hormones, which again is not uniform in all males and females, and can change over time. Add in the influence of brain development and chemistry, and the idea of binary gender and sexual orientation falls apart even further.
This isn’t to say that simply declaring oneself to be a man or a woman makes it so, but arguing that someone’s birth gender, which sometimes is unclear, must rule all future decisions oversimplifies the issue. And, when misapplied, it is harmful and hurtful.
Further, there is a dangerous notion — perpetuated in conversations around the three bills in Maine — that protecting the rights of transgender women allows men to dress up as women so they can use women’s bathrooms to sexually assault children. This is patently wrong, and offensive. Transgender women (and men) are far more likely to be the victims of violence than their perpetrators.
The majority of sexual assault perpetrators are men. In the case of child sexual assault, the majority of perpatrators are known to their victims, with about a quarter being family members, Department of Justice statistics show. The majority of assaults happen in the victims’ homes.
LGBTQ Americans, especially those who are transgender, are already marginalized. Bills like those introduced in the Maine Legislature only reinforce such othering, with adverse outcomes.
Transgender Mainers are more likely to report being unemployed, homeless, harassed at school and work and mistreated by medical professionals and police. They are also far more likely to consider ending their lives by suicide than their cisgender peers.
These bills are also unnecessary. With regard to athletics, the Maine Principals’ Association, which oversees sports in K-12 schools, already has a policy in place for transgender student athlete participation. If there are concerns about fairness or safety, they can be addressed through this policy.
Instead of sending a message that it is OK to mistreat transgender Mainers — or worse, to limit their civil rights — lawmakers and others should invest time in finding ways to end this mistreatment.