Family Policy Alliance is proud to work with nearly 40 state-based family policy councils, including The Family Foundation of Virginia. Victoria Cobb is president of the organization. This op-ed appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Stephanie is the adoptive mother of two girls who were sexually assaulted, each of whom suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. In a raw and powerful letter addressed to members of the Virginia General Assembly telling her story, she wrote: “A particular risk to my daughters is exposure to the anatomy of the opposite sex. To my daughters, the male anatomy is a weapon by which they were assaulted. But the risk extends to even being in the presence of biological males in situations where my daughters feel vulnerable, such as when they are using the bathroom, changing clothes, or showering.”
Now, according to a federal court, assault victims like her daughters will just have to deal with that horrible fear.
Are we really willing to force sexual assault victims into situations like these?
Even for most adults, preferring to shower or dress in the most private atmosphere possible is completely rational. Remarkably, that natural desire for physical privacy in public restrooms, locker rooms and showers shared by the overwhelming majority of Americans is being attacked as unreasonable, discriminatory — even bigoted. Worse, some are attempting to force our school children into vulnerable interactions with kids of the opposite sex in restrooms, locker rooms and showers, in addition to those who have suffered sexual abuse.
Last week the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opined that a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in schools should be interpreted as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Despite erroneous media reports, the court did not mandate that schools immediately require access for students to restrooms of the opposite sex, despite a request by the plaintiff and ACLU for just that. Instead, the case was sent back to the lower court for further proceedings.
Yet for the first time, rather than following the plain language of law, a court concluded that the term “sex” no longer refers to the reality of biological differences between males and females. Rather, it refers to an individual’s subjective and changing feelings of “gender identity.” No other court in the country has come to this conclusion.
More important, as Judge Paul Niemeyer said in his dissent, the decision “overrules custom, culture, and the very demands inherent in human nature for privacy and safety. . . . An individual has a legitimate and important interest in bodily privacy such that his or her nude or partially nude body . . . (is) not exposed to persons of the opposite biological sex. Indeed, courts have consistently recognized that the need for such privacy is inherent in the nature and dignity of humankind.”
The court argues that ignoring the realities of biological sex is necessary because the plaintiff may feel “irreparable harm” at not being able to use the restroom of her choice.
But what about the irreparable harm and humiliation children might feel being exposed to someone of the opposite sex in a locker room or shower? Is their humiliation and discomfort at having their bodies exposed to someone of the opposite sex irrational?
And while the ACLU may argue this case involves only restrooms and not locker rooms and showers, logic dictates — as Judge Niemeyer rightly stated in his dissent — the new definition of sex cannot be compartmentalized and must be applied to showers and locker rooms.
Unfortunately, the court failed to properly consider the vast harms that will result from allowing boys to share private facilities with girls. Students from all walks of life find it deeply humiliating and offensive to be forced to share showers, restrooms and locker rooms with the opposite sex.
For those students, there is no “appropriate use” that justifies the deeply harmful intrusion on their privacy. This is especially true for victims of sexual abuse, which some reports put at 1 out of 10 students under the age of 18, and for whom the very presence of a biological male in a female restroom will trigger psychological and emotional harm.
The privacy rights and safety of vulnerable school children shouldn’t be cast aside or used as a political pawn for special-interest groups that desire to impose a genderless society.
Remarkably, the court seems to have concluded that a single student’s need for public affirmation trumps the desire inherent in human nature for privacy and safety, dismissing even the fear of sexual assault victims. Hopefully, a reasonable court will step in and reaffirm that our children have the dignity of basic privacy rights in bathrooms and showers. Anything short of that will put vulnerable children at tremendous emotional, physical and developmental risk.