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Monday, May 23

PROTECT: #ProtectMeNot

Kristin Rubbelke, NASW Illinois Chapter Social Work Intern

A dozen states considering laws that harm this vulnerable population

This article is intended to help you better understand how to Protect the Profession. If you have insight on legislation and advocacy that supports the social work profession, please consider contributing an article! Submit your article proposal online here.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of the dispute between North Carolina and its public restroom situation. As a young female I have never felt the need to be protected when using public bathrooms, yet certain legislators seem to think that protection is necessary to counter sexual violence. I disagree. Our government should be protecting those who are most vulnerable, which (SURPRISE!) is not always cisgender women.

According to the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union, no evidence has been traced to the necessity of restricting bathroom access by birth certificate identifiers. Over 200 municipalities and 18 states have fostered laws of nondiscrimination in bathroom use, and none of these states have reported a rise in sexual violence or other issues pertaining to nondiscrimination laws.

The main argument against letting people who are transgender use the bathrooms with which they identify is that it provides an opportunity for males who are sexual predators to enter women’s bathrooms without restraint. But, as noted above, nondiscrimination laws have not increased sexual violence or provided a risk to public safety in the states that have already enacted them. Also, around 5 percent of cisgender women who are sexually assaulted will be assaulted in public spaces. On the contrary, around 53 percent of individuals who identify as transgender have been harassed in public spaces like public restrooms, and up to 64 percent of individuals who are transgender will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. So who needs to be protected the most? Not me.

Laws like these stem from unwarranted fear and bias. They are detrimental to a community’s mental and physical wellbeing. According to NASW Policy Statements in Social Work Speaks:

“NASW supports the legal recognition of transgender individuals as members of the gender with which they identify, regardless of assigned sex at birth or subsequent surgical or other medical interventions...NASW [also] encourages the repeal of laws and discriminatory practices that impede individuals in their identification with, and their expression of, the gender that matches their sense of themselves, in all areas of the public arena.”

The NASW Illinois Chapter fights for nondiscrimination laws in the Illinois House and Senate. Currently one of our bills is seeing similar pushback. HB6073 is a bill that would let a person who identifies with a different gender than the gender assigned at birth with the ability to alter the gender on their birth certificate without necessitating surgery. This bill has been countered with arguments of immense bias even within the Democratic party.

The larger questions that need to be asked in creating and sustaining laws are, “Who are these laws protecting?” and “Are these laws protecting those in the most need?” There must be a reconsideration of laws that merely protect ideologies and traditions. Like North Carolina’s public restroom laws, many laws sustain outdated ideologies and traditions which lead to discrimination, harassment, and segregation. I am sick of laws that maintain so-called “ideals” over the wellbeing of its most vulnerable constituents. We must rethink what or who our laws are protecting.

In regards to the bathroom dispute, don’t protect me, a cisgender female. Help to protect our most vulnerable neighbors because I guarantee you, those discriminated against are BY FAR in more need of your protection than MY safety in public restrooms.

Kristin Rubbelke is a recent graduate from Loyola University Chicago. She holds two master's degrees, one in social work and the other in social justice. Her goal is to use this knowledge in order to influence political decision-making within the areas of poverty or restorative justice. She was most recently the 2015–2016 NASW Illinois Chapter Social Work Intern. 

Posted on 05/23/16 at 08:00 AM


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