Nonprofit Physics Lesson as Local Nonprofits Resist Copycat “Bathroom Bills”

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May 9, 2016; FloridaPolitics.com

NPQ has published a few pieces recently that acknowledge the sad fact that no large victory for civil rights comes without a significant guerilla backlash. It’s a law of advocacy physics, perhaps, and in this case, the LGBTQ community is resisting a spate of so-called “bathroom bills” that require local action.

While North Carolina and the Department of Justice argue over the constitutionality of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” (HB2), a series of similar policies are cropping up across the country. Most recently, the school board of Marion County, a largely rural area in central Florida, passed a measure that students may only use the bathroom designated for their “biological sex,” rather than the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This measure emerged after one father complained to the school board that a transgender student had used the boys’ bathroom in his son’s school.

Equality Florida united with five other agencies—the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Florida Legal Services, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center—to submit an open letter calling on the Marion County School Board to reverse their decision. The letter condemns the school board’s hasty verdict as discriminatory and a violation of federal law, saying that it causes real harm to students:

Excluding transgender students from the same restrooms used by other students sends a message to transgender students and their peers that transgender students should be treated differently. By requiring transgender students to use separate facilities, the new policy further stigmatizes, isolates, and demeans them. Being separated from other students in this way would be damaging to anyone, but it is especially harmful for transgender children, who are already at a disproportionate risk of harassment, bullying, and discriminatory treatment by their teachers and peers.

The six advocacy groups working in Florida add their voices to a chorus of those denouncing these types of bathroom policies. CNN reports that boycotts of North Carolina by musicians and businesses ranging from Bruce Springsteen to PayPal have been costly to the state. It is expected that North Carolina’s reputation and federal funding may suffer from the public outcry against the bill.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently made headlines by comparing sex-segregated bathroom policy to racial segregation during Jim Crow laws. In her remarks to the press on May 9th, Lynch reminded us that, “It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference.” She went on to speak directly to the transgender community:

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy—but we’ll get there together.

As social progress increases protection and visibility for transgender Americans, nonprofit organizations have an opportunity to take leadership on this issue. Some organizations, like the six discussed in this article, will take national leadership positions; however, all nonprofit organizations can take leadership at the local level. For example, nonprofit leaders can educate themselves about transgender persons, consider enacting or expanding organizational policies that protect gender identity, and take steps to ensure their workplaces are as inclusive as possible.

Equality Florida will hold a town hall meeting in Ocala, Florida, on May 15th to oppose the controversial decision by Marion County’s school board. For more information, visit their website.—Chelsea E. Carnes & Jennifer A. Jones