The Mayor of Houston, Annise D. Parker, a lesbian and first openly gay mayor of a large US city, put it bluntly, "This is a calculated campaign of lies designed to demonize a little understood minority." And that is the truth. While the opposition to the ordinance tried to play on people's fears of sexual predators in little girls' bathrooms, the reality is that transgender people are the ones who are most in danger in a bathroom or locker room. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found in a study of transgender people in DC that seventy percent report verbal harassment, assault, and being denied access to public bathrooms. Fully 10 percent of the respondents who had attended school in DC said bathroom related issues negatively impacted their education.
The Obama Administration has called for public schools to allow children to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable using. The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights ruled on Monday that a suburban Chicago school district that had been denying a transgender student the use of the girls' bathroom was in violation of Title IX, which bars discrimination in federally funded education programs. If the school system fails to comply with the ruling, they face losing up to $6 million dollars in federal funds.
This is the kind of leadership our most vulnerable students need. We need leadership outside the schools, when necessary, from places such as the Department of Education and the White House, but we also need strong leadership within the schools. We need principals, teachers, parents, and students who are all willing to stand up for transgender students and not only tolerate them, but welcome them, support them, and advocate for them. Librarians work with all students and teachers throughout the school, and so are in a natural position of leadership. The library can be a space of inclusion and protection for all students, and a model for the whole school community. Even when, or especially when, ordinances like the one in Houston are struck down, our students deserve our help.