Federal Court of the 4th Circuit rules on Title IX

So, this is couple days late because I spent most of the day researching for this post. I wanted this to be a factual article, as well as an opinion piece. But today’s Trans* Tuesday post is about a historic Federal Court ruling on the definitions outlined within Title IX on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and how it impacts existing legislature within the 4th Circuit, including HB2. Let’s dive right in.

Today (Tues. April 19th, 2016), the Federal Court of the 4th District of the United States ruled in favor of a 16 year-old transgender boy suing his school board’s decision to bar him from using the men’s restroom. There’s a lot to talk about here, but first, we need to start with what Title IX is.

Title IX of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 states

“[n]o person . . . shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,”

and continues to detail some of these benefits, including:

  1. Provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities;
  2. Provision of medical and training facilities and services;
  3. Provision of housing and dining facilities and services;

Title IX also continues, saying

“separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex, but such facilities provided for students of one sex shall be comparable to such facilities provided for students of the other sex.”

This is further bolstered by a Federal Department of Education opinion letter dated January 7, 2015, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights wrote: “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”5 J.A. 55.

Boom. Great news, right? Case dismissed.

Well, no. The school board for Gloucester County Public Schools (GCPS) suggests that “a restroom may not be educational in nature and thus is not an educational program covered by Title IX.” Excuse me, but what?

That argument is shaky at best. Just because classes aren’t held in bathrooms, it’s not covered under Title IX? Thankfully, the federal court has a different interpretation.

Except as provided in this subpart, in providing any aid, benefit, or service to a student, a recipient shall not, on the basis of sex:

(1) Treat one person differently from another in determining whether such person satisfies any requirement or condition for the provision of such aid, benefit, or service;

(2) Provide different aid, benefits, or services or provide aid, benefits, or services in a different manner;

(3) Deny any person any such aid, benefit, or service; . . .

(7) Otherwise limit any person in the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity.

34 C.F.R. § 106.31(b). We have little difficulty concluding that access to a restroom at a school, under this regulation, can be considered either an “aid, benefit, or service” or a “right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity,” which, when offered by a recipient institution, falls within the meaning of “educational program” as used in Title IX and defined by the Department’s implementing regulations.

This is a historic ruling. This ruling paves the way for a SCOTUS ruling protecting against trans* discrimination under Title IX, and potentially the greater Civil Rights Act in general. But more importantly: The 4th Circuit includes North Carolina. A state that has been infamously plastered across millions of televisions and periodicals as of late, due to an insidious bill passed in their state: House Bill 2.

HB2 is being called an anti-LGBTQ bill for many reasons, but chief among them is the law changing the definition of sex in the state’s anti-discrimination laws to biological-sex, and the provisions it makes for barring any protections from anti-discrimination legislature to gays and lesbians. In short, this bill makes it illegal for transgender people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with, and it allows businesses and individuals free reign to deny the LGBTQ community services and benefits.

This is hugely controversial. And rightly so; this bill is pure hate wrapped in a ‘legalese’ tortilla, like some evil burrito. As such, the outcry has been deafening. Protests have been almost non-stop. Corporate activism is on the rise with such companies as Red Hat, Dow Chemical, Biogen, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, Lowe’s, PayPal, Marriott International, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, IBM, Yelp, and Salesforce. On March 29, 2016, an open letter signed by 80 corporate CEOs against House Bill 2 was sent to Governor McCrory.

And the commercial fallout doesn’t stop there. Multiple film production companies, such as 21st Century Fox and Lionsgate have refused to produce in the state for good. The NBA and other sports agencies are considering canceling sports events. Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert just over a week ago.

Even the Federal Government isn’t happy with this bill. The Obama administration is currently debating whether this bill makes the state ineligible for any kind of federal funded assistance.

State and local governments across the country have spoken out against the bill, banning travel to North Carolina, including Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington; the District of Columbia; the counties of Cuyahoga, Ohio, Multnomah, Oregon, and Summit, Ohio; and the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami Beach, New York City, Oakland, California, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, Providence, Royal Oak, Michigan, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Seattle, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Florida, and Wilton Manors, Florida.

Even the North Carolina cities of Carrboro, Greensboro, Durham, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Raleigh are in open opposition to the bill.

But now, opponents to HB2 have a real chance at overturning it, thanks to the 4th Circuit decision. But don’t be mistaken. This is not the end of the fight. It’s simply a federal court ruling on the meaning of Title IX, which applies to education. However, federal cases and lead to supreme court cases, as with the fight for marriage equality, culminating in the SCOTUS ruling last summer.

And something else to keep in mind, the 4th Circuit didn’t completely overturn the district court’s decision in the Gloucester County Public Schools case. Instead, it remanded it back to the District Court, stating that the original ruling was without basis and unconstitutional. Which is still a big deal! But there is a long way to go.

This fight is not over, but rather, it is just beginning. Let’s go get ’em.

For anyone interested, you can read the full 69 page ruling of the 4th Circuit case here.

On The Importance of Advisement: Addendum

Every so often, one of my posts can trigger a long and in depth discussion. I love when this happens. Most recently, my post titled “On The Importance of Advisement” was reposted to Reddit, and a fascinating conversation unfolded in the comments. You can read the comment thread here.

Occasionally when this happens, however, I get to experience the joy of seeing something through another’s eyes and changing opinions. And that has happened here. So with that in mind (and my affinity for alliteration), I feel like this would make a great Follow-up Friday post. But I warn you now, dear reader. This might be a long one.

So, in my original post I spoke about the problematic issues of the episode, specifically the scene where the Powerpuff Girls meet Donny. What is important to note is that I was viewing this episode through a lense of fear. Fear of how the episode might be perceived by a cisgendered person who has not had much interaction with the trans community. My original opinion was that, viewed by the hypothetical individual above, Buttercup’s behavior might be seen as acceptable, since it was never addressed as inappropriate.

However. I failed to view this episode through the eyes of a young trans person growing up, and the message of affirmation and empowerment hidden in plain sight. Through discussion with several individuals on Reddit, I was able to attain a new view and appreciation of this episode. So, let’s dive right in.

As mentioned before, the episode begins with Bubbles meeting Donny. Blossom and Buttercup show up to collect Bubbles for the bus and meet Donny as well. Buttercup’s behavior here is still troubling. However, I would like to point out that it is an accurate representation of the kind of invalidation and transphobic behavior many of us encounter on a daily basis, and as uncomfortable as it is, I do believe it is important to show the challenges that the trans community faces as a whole.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 4.31.04 PMAfter this scene, Bubbles takes Donny to the Professor to have him turned into a “real” unicorn by way of a procedure of sorts (the transmogrifier ray). Before agreeing to use the ray, Professor Utonium asks Donny if this is what he really wants to do. Donny gives an emphatic yes, proclaiming, “This is going to be the best day of my life!” The Professor then agrees, but not before giving Donny a large stack of documents detailing all the possible side-effects and outcomes. Donny signs the document, without even reading it and jumps into the chair.

The Professor charges up the transmogrifier ray and fires, leaving Donny with….rabbit ears? Hmm…that doesn’t seem quite right. But the Professor did say there could be risks and side-effects, if only Donny had read the entire document.

Donny’s changes continue to progress, growing more and more monstrous. Large muscles,Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 4.56.00 PM sharp teeth, warts and all. Donny becomes very upset and storms out of the labratory. “I hate science!” As Donny starts running through Townsville causing terror and mayhem, he begins to grow more and more distraught, and clearly self-hating. By the time Bubbles catches up to him, Donny has taken the Mayor hostage on a rooftop and calls himself a freak. Bubbles tries to calm him by saying he’s not a freak and that, “In your heart you know you’re a real life unicorn!” Donny rebuts this by angrily saying, “No! In my heart, I know I’m a monster!” Donny then hits Bubbles, sending her flying into a wall, knocking her unconscious for a minute.

At this moment, Donny begins to snap out of it. “Oh no! What have I done!?” He begins to back away, horrified of his actions, before slipping and falling off the top of the building.

Phew. Let’s pause here and break this down, cause a lot just happened here, and there’s a lot to understand.

First of all, let’s go back to the procedure. This is an important scene that I really didn’t have much issue with originally, because through the lense of fear that I mentioned earlier, there wasn’t much that was problematic. However, looking at this scene now through the eyes of a young trans person, there is a lot to learn here and a very important message: “Don’t rush into things. Take your time, and understand what you’re doing.” Like Professor Utonium says in the show, “This is your body, and it’s a serious choice.” Because transition is a SERIOUS choice. And for many of us, it’s a choice made out of necessity, which is why it’s so important to understand what it is we’re getting into.

After the procedure goes wrong, Donny gets very upset and rushes out of the labratory. As Reddit user Boltizar commented, “Now what I see this as is Donny not looking into transitioning and taking any means necessary. Something goes wrong and he has deep regrets due to his rushed approach and taking the wrong path. It’s like a detransitioner going TERF.” Which is another important lesson to take away here. Sometimes, there are people who regret transitioning and choose to detransition. This can happen by realizing that transitioning makes you more uncomfortable and choosing not to. Sometimes, it’s because you were unprepared for the results. For Donny, I think of it as the latter.

After terrorizing Townsville and taking the Mayor hostage, Donny calls himself a monster and hurts his friend in the process. This is yet another important lesson here about gender dysphoria. Dysphoria is awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, and sometimes when you’re so down and depressed about yourself like that, you do stupid things. Mean and hurtful things. The lesson here is that, even though dysphoria is a powerful and horrible feeling, it’s important to remember that you are not a monster. Because when it begins to subside and you finally calm down, you may realize you’ve done something awful or hurt your friends in some way. (If you’d like to learn more about dysphoria, please listen to this episode of my podcast.)

After all this, Donny is saved in a brilliant ray of light by a group of unicorns! Donny, Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 4.33.02 PMhaving been returned to normal by the power of unicorn magic apologizes to Bubbles for how he acted, and Bubbles apologizes for pushing him to get the procedure done. This is an important moment in the episode, because it has a lesson for both trans youth, and allies. For trans youth, this speaks volumes about the importance of group support and finding a group of peers. For Donny, he needed to find a group of other unicorns to help him get where he needed to be. For transgender people, it’s important to find those who have transitioned before you, as well as do your own research.

For allies, the message is different, but no less important. As an ally, you have a unique ability to truly help a queer friend, be they trans, gay, what-have-you. But, it is very important to note that your support should never be driven or overshadowed by your ego. It’s important to support transgender friends if they feel they need procedures and surgeries to find happiness. But it’s just as important to help them feel comfortable in their own bodies and feel recognized as they identify, regardless of what they look like.

All in all, I’d have to say that my opinion on this episode has changed. I think this was a powerful episode, and there were a lot of positives to take away here. However, I still feel like this episode was not without a few problematic instances.

The biggest issue that remains is that Buttercup’s behavior was never addressed. It is important to show the adversity that transgender people face, but it is also important to note that it is not acceptable behavior.

However, this episode had a lot of empowering and affirming messages for trans youth, as
well as words of caution. “Don’t jump into transition without fully understanding what it means.” “Don’t try to do it alone. You don’t have to.” “Don’t let your dysphoria get the better of you.” “Your identity is real and valid.” “Defend your identity.” “You don’t need surgeries to be yourself.”

Furthermore, the original goal of this post was to point out the need for advisement on sensitive issues and topics. But there’s another lesson to learn, that I fell victim to myself. It is important to look at the whole picture, and not let ourselves become jaded. This episode had it’s share of problematic moments, but I was too focused on how this episode could be used to justify hate, I missed all the ways it could be used to empower trans youth. Advisement is important. But so is keeping an open mind.

So there we have it. My full and updated thoughts and opinions on this episode of The Powerpuff Girls. I hope that this was a good read and that you stuck with me until the end, dear reader. I know it was a long one. If you’d like, please feel free to leave comments and feedback. I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter as well.


On The Importance of Advisement

For today’s “Trans* Tuesday” post, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of advisement. Specifically, the importance of having someone intimately familiar with a marginalized group of people (preferably from inside the group) as an advisor to writers and directors for film and television.

This can, of course, be applied to any piece of media or literature which aims to discuss the issues of any group, be they black, hispanic, asian, the homeless, drug users, etc. But today, I’m going to focus on the importance of transgender advisement as it relates to Cartoon Network.

Please bear with me here. This sounds silly, but I have a point I’m trying to make, I assure you.

In a fairly recent episode of the new Powerpuff Girls series on Cartoon Network entitled “Horn, Sweet Horn”, the Professor tries to make Donny the Pony a unicorn at Bubbles’ request, but Donny is turned into a monster that threatens Townsville.

Now, I want to pause here for a minute. This sounds like a perfectly legitimate concept for a Powerpuff Girls episode. Normally, I would have no problem with it. However, the writers attempt to allude to transgender issues with the story, and they do so in an incredibly problematic way.

powerpuff-girls2_640x345_acf_croppedIn the episode, Bubbles and her class take a field trip to the Townsville zoo, where Bubbles excitedly asks when they’re going to see the unicorns. Everyone laughs and tells her unicorns aren’t real, and so Bubbles wanders off feeling rather dejected when she runs into a young colt names Donny with a horn fashioned from a stick stuck to his head.

At this point, Bubbles’ sisters show up to tell her that the bus is about to leave. After catching sight of Donny, Buttercup asks, “Hey. What’s up with the horse?” Bubbles defends Donny’s identity saying, “He’s not a horse! He’s a unicorn!” And this is where things start to get upsetting. Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.24.50 PM

Really upsetting. Buttercup responds with, “I hate to break it to you Bubbles, but that’s
not a unicorn. That’s just…” Buttercup proceeds to knock the makeshift horn off Donny’s head. “…sad.”

So, let’s stop here for a minute and think about this one action. If Donny is our transgender analog, let’s go the full monty and assume he’s a transwoman. And if we’re going to do that, we need to make Donny’s horn an analog for a transwoman. Let’s just say, a wig for simplicity’s sake. Now, if Donny is a transwoman wearing a wig, and Buttercup comes up to her and says, “Sorry to break it to you Bubbles, but your new friend is a man.” And then pulls Donny’s wig off? Would that seem right to you? How do you think Donny (the transwoman) would react?

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.30.16 PMKinda like this? I know that’s how I’d react. And Donny reacts in kind. From here, Donny goes on to defend his identity vehemently. “Well excuse me! I may not have a horn, but I do have a heart! And in that heart I know I’m a beautiful unicorn!” Well said, Donny.

And how does Buttercup react to this? “Whoah. Drama bomb.”

I’m going to take a second here to sigh in frustration, if you would like to join me, dear reader. See, as a transwoman, when someone invalidates my identity that I fight so hard for every day, I tend to defend myself passionately. Especially if it happens in a situation as humiliating as the above example. So, drama bomb? Buttercup isn’t even taking responsibility for her wildly inappropriate behavior.

But let’s move on, because this scene isn’t over yet. Bubbles suggests having the Professor turn Donny into a unicorn, so she can have a best friend who is a unicorn. Because, deep down, it doesn’t matter why Donny would want to do that, or even if. All that matters is that Bubbles gets to be friends with a unicorn. Right? Let’s return to our transgender analogy for a second here.

Actually, I’m not going to spell this situation out for you, cause I’m hoping you’re following along pretty well, but just imagine for yourself the “trans version” of Bubbles suggesting surgery for Donny for her own selfish reasons. Pretty offensive.

From here, the episode then moves on to the Professor’s lab, and Donny being shot with a “transmogrifier ray”, etc. There are a few more problematic details in this episode, but this is a long post already, so we’re just going to focus on the scene above, which was the most problematic part of the whole episode.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.49.37 PMAnd at this point, I hope you’re thinking, “But based on the episode descriptions alone, they didn’t seem to suggest trans* anything… It doesn’t seem too offensive.” And I’d agree with you. Earlier, I wrote that it seemed like it would have been a normal episode for the Powerpuff Girls in my opinion. However, the writers and director did something very deliberately which paints the entire episode in a very tainted light: They included the transgender flag at the end of the show.

The inclusion of the transgender flag (Light pink, white (or light yellow), light blue) makes the writers’ intentions quite clear. This was supposed to be an episode that tackles transgender issues and themes of acceptance. Donny is supposed to represent a trans person. However, this episode is a wonderful example of what happens with a group of cisgendered writers take it upon themselves to be a voice for the trans community.

Now, I could be wrong. There could be a transgender person working on this show. I have no idea. But it seems to me that if there is, they would have realized how problematic this episode can be. Had the production crew just reached out to any person in the transgender community to advise and consult, this episode could have been a great thing for transgender youth. Instead, I fear it may have made things even harder for kids struggling with their identity.

Long story short (and this post is definitely long), if there is going to be a voice for the trans community in the media, make sure that a trans person is helping write those words. Because more often than not, people assume they can speak for others. And like the old addage, when you assume, you make and ass out of you and me.

Thanks for reading today, and if you got this far and read all of it, I’d love to hear some comments and opinions about the Powerpuff Girls episode, and this blog post.

And if you want an LGBTQ affirming cartoon to watch, check out Steven Universe. It’s very entertaining, has a compelling story, and is a great voice for the LGBTQ community.

EDIT: So, after reading my post above, a friend asked me how I would have written this episode. I’m not sure it could have been handled better, just cause I don’t think PPG is really the best place for this. To me, this type of show requires writing that isn’t really compatible with trans issues. Because the episodes usually focus around a villian and how the Powerpuff Girls stop said villain, etc. And making the trans character a villain is not a good way to handle something like this.

However. A start would have been actually writing a transgirl. Like a human classmate, who’s struggling with a bully at school. It could even be Buttercup, if they want to make her the bad guy. But there has to be an immediate rebuttal to Buttercup’s inappropriate behavior and a character progression for her character. But then again, I don’t write for film and television.