Column: “Sex discrimination” should protect transgender people too

Missouri transgender teen sues school district for not allowing him access to boy’s changing rooms.

Maddie Niblett is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is an opinions columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Ever since President Trump repealed Obama-era legislation allowing transgender people access to facilities that match their gender identity, laws regarding bathroom access for non-cisgendered people have been all over the place across the country. Now, Missouri is preparing to make its decision about this landmark civil rights issue.

A high school-aged transgender boy, identified as R. J. Appleberry, is suing the Blue Springs School District for discrimination after he was prohibited from using the boys’ locker room, even though he had been officially recognized as male by the district since he was in fourth grade and was allowed to participate in male-only sports.

Appleberry’s lawyer Alexander Edelman argues that discrimination based on gender orientation constitutes sex discrimination, which is expressly prohibited by the Missouri Human Rights Act. Sex discrimination can (obviously) be defined as discriminating against or treating someone differently based on their sex or gender.

The defending school district based their case on the idea that discrimination because of gender identity is not technically sex discrimination. They argue that not allowing a transgender person to use the bathrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity is a different form of discrimination that is not forbidden by the MHRA or any other law, so it is okay.

From an exclusively philosophical standpoint, the debate about whether or not a transgender person should be able to use the facilities that match their gender identity could go on forever. However, from a legal standpoint, only one aspect of this case is relevant: Is discrimination against a non-cisgendered person sex discrimination, or something entirely different?

The defense claims that sex discrimination is only defined as men being treated differently than women, or vice versa, and does not encompass transgender or other non-cisgendered people.

This is not only false, it is dehumanizing. To claim that “sex discrimination” doesn’t apply to transgender people is to say that transgender people don’t have gender-based protection under the law. It de-legitimizes transgender people by putting non-cisgendered gender identities in a different category under the law than cisgender identities. It opens the door for all kinds of bigotry-fueled acts against transgender people with impunity. If a transgender person is denied housing based on their gender identity, it’s not technically sex discrimination. If an employer fires someone for being transgender, it’s still not sex discrimination and is therefore legal.

What I find interesting about this case and, frankly, slightly alarming, is that nobody on either side is disputing that this is a case of discrimination. Even if the court decides that this isn’t technically a case of sex discrimination, it is discrimination nonetheless, and so it is wrong. Say it with me folks, victims of discrimination of any kind should be protected under the law.

Not allowing a person access to facilities because they are transgender sets a dangerous precedent for Missouri. The term “sex discrimination” should encompass all people of all sexes and gender identities, not just those people who fit traditional gender expectations. If the highest authority in Missouri rules that these acts of discrimination are justified, it will be a sad day for our state.

"Because he is not the kind of boy that the school district expected," Edelman said, "it's a form of sex discrimination."

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