OPEN LETTER from Vica Steel: Madison Metropolitan School District is currently enacting a transphobic policy

The leadership of Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is currently enacting a transphobic policy. And yes, it’s about bathrooms. It’s ALWAYS about bathrooms. 

Here are the facts:

The policy our leadership is enacting is to require that staff and students use different bathrooms. I know, that doesn’t seem transphobic on the face of it. Our leadership wants to push the idea that it’s just a clarification of existing expectations. They want us to believe that it’s not transphobic, it’s just about safety and about “listening to all stakeholders”. And if that were true, this would not be a problem.

First: In the 23 years that I’ve been in the district, students and staff have always used the same multi-stall bathrooms in our schools. Does that shock you? Women using the same bathrooms as girls? Can I ask you to name any public space that segregates bathroom use by age? Do theme parks? Malls? Restaurants? Museums? Every place I’ve been in my life, Adults and youth use multi-stall bathrooms. Why would anyone think schools are in any way different than every other place we go in our lives.

Second: In the 23 years I’ve been in the district, there has never been a complaint about women using the same bathrooms as their students. The fact that most people don’t know that women use the same bathrooms as girls should be proof enough that this is not, has not, and should not even be an issue.

Third: In January, I started using the same multi-stall bathroom as the women on my wing of my school. Yes students use that bathroom too. Women have used that bathroom for decades. No complaints. I used it. I am an open and out transgender woman. I fought decades with the trauma that our society laid on me. But I stood up and I came out, and yes, I used the bathroom because, seriously, can you just let us pee! Wiithin days a transphobic parent complained to the district and our leadership, instead of following established guidelines for transgender people and our district’s bathrooms, the leadership decided to rush a change of policy so that I would not use that bathroom. The leaders enacting this policy refuse to see the transphobia in their action. This is where they cite safety and “hearing all stakeholders”.

Fourth: Just to be clear, if you didn’t know, our district does have a clear policy on transgender people and our bathrooms. Essentially it says that MMSD supports the right of people to use the bathroom most appropriate to their gender identity. And, if a student or a family feels that they don’t want to use the same bathroom, then a plan is made for the transphobic individuals to use a separate facility.

Fifth: We do have All-Gender bathrooms in all of our schools now. They are not always easily accessible or convenient. And they are specifically NOT “Transgender Bathrooms”. Every student can, and does, use the the All-Gender bathrooms for any reason because they are for All Genders.

Sixth: Now let’s come back to a couple points that may have slipped by: “Hearing All Stakeholders.” Really? Since when has it been MMSD policy to give an ear to hate? Does our school district need to improve from the racist systems that inform funding and allocations? Absolutely. Look at where new schools have been built. Look at the packed buses and long bus routes that come to our overcrowded schools. Look at the allocations of specialists, where advanced learning or others that are equal in one sense, but not equitable. But when any person brings transphobia or homophobia or any other brand of hate to the table, it is absolutely necessary for our district leadership to stand firm against that fear and hate.

Seventh: One further point on “Hearing All Stakeholders”: At no point in this rush to change policy has our district leadership spoken with me. At no point has our district leadership spoken with our LGBTQ district leadership. At no point would they listen to the local school leadership’s clear statements that this change of policy is discriminatory.

Eighth: Let’s talk about how our district leadership tried to institute this policy. 

First: They wanted me to change my bathroom to use the all-gender bathrooms. I, alone, of all our female staff, I was to change the bathroom I used. I was to walk, each time I needed to pee, halfway down our long hallways, and down to the first floor. Each time I needed to pee, while my cisgender peers would continue to use the multi-stall bathroom directly across from my room. Can you not see the transphobia in this attempt?

Next: They tried to force my principal to enact this policy at Allis only. My principal refused to enact a discriminatory policy that would be placed only at the school with the woman who is possibly the only out and open transgender woman in the district (I am not the only transgender woman, but I am out and open about my identity). For her act of courage, for placing herself as the ally who will take the blows, she was disciplined by our district’s leadership. This is transphobia from our district  writ large.

Now: They have decided to make this change of bathroom use a policy across all of our elementary and middle schools. But not high schools, and why is that? If they are really worried about safety, shouldn’t they be making this change at all schools? But of course, this is not about safety, this is transphobia and trying to push a policy where they think they will get the least pushback.

Ninth: Safety. Let’s say a couple things about that word in this context. Transgender woman. Bathrooms. Safety. This is code. This is the same code word that was used in North Carolina when they enacted their transgender bathroom bans. This is the same code word used by every hate group everywhere when they are talking about women like me who need to pee. The code means fear. It’s based on lies and fears about transgender women. It plays to fears that have never been real. There has never been a case of a transgender woman endangering or attacking or doing anything in her time in the bathroom, except using it for peeing and adjusting make-up and doing what every other woman does. And darling, transgender women have been around since the beginning of time. We were welcomed in most cultures until hatred became enshrined in Europe about 1,000 years ago. Or maybe earlier, I’m not fully up on that part of my history.

Tenth: Now that the district wants to make this a district wide policy, they are at last attempting for “reasonable”. But let me try to explain the problem here. They are not changing the facilities in any way, except by changing the rule of where adults pee. At my school, that means every staff member will share a total of four bathrooms which are not conveniently located for at least half of the staff. Three of those bathrooms are also shared by students. What do we think is going to happen when a cisgender woman needs to pee, walks downstairs to the nearest “acceptable” bathroom, and finds a line? In our busy schedules? We all know she’s going to use the same multi-stall bathroom she’s used for the last five years, or the last decade, or the last who-knows-how-long? Will she be disciplined for this simple need to pee? Has she ever been disciplined for peeing? Of course not. What principal is going to play bathroom monitor? They aren’t even going to notice. Unless there is a complaint.

Eleventh: Complaint based policy. That’s what this will be. A policy that is on the books, unenforced, unless there is a complaint. And who do we think those complaints will be about? Darlings you know there won’t be complaints about heterosexual cisgender staff. The complaints will be about gay or lesbian staff. The complaints will be about transgender staff. We will be the ones who are disciplined. We will be the ones required to watch where we pee.

My darlings. This is where we need to stand up. This is where we need to resist the writing of transphobia into our school district heart.  I need allies. I need other voices. I cannot do this alone. And if our district is going to require that my need to pee be a revolutionary act, then let’s lead that revolution together.