Janine Jackson interviewed Kris Hayashi about the Supreme Court’s non-ruling on trans students for the March 10, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: Listeners may know the name Gavin Grimm, the transgender teen boy from Virginia whose case for his right to use the boys’ bathroom in his high school the Supreme Court has just declined to hear. You are less likely to know the name Ciara McElveen, a New Orleans outreach worker for the homeless, or Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a nursing student in South Dakota, two of the at least seven trans women killed violently just so far in 2017.
The failure of institutions like the Court to prioritize the human rights of transgender people, and the daily violence committed against them, might seem like two separate, if related, stories. But maybe it’s really only one story, about continued resistance to accepting transgender people, including kids, as fully human, deserving of inclusion and protection.
We’re joined now by Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. He joins us by phone from Oakland. Welcome to CounterSpin, Kris Hayashi.
Kris Hayashi: Thank you for having me.
When media headlines reported that the Trump White House’s retraction of the Obama administration’s guidance around the rights of transgender students in public schools, when the headlines said that meant those rights were “rescinded” or “revoked,” they were just wrong, and it seems important to make clear that that kind of move doesn’t change the law, no matter what anybody says.
But it’s also the case that a decision like the one the Supreme Court just made on Gavin Grimm, that kind of thing can still have an effect, can’t it? I wonder what’s your response, in particular to the Court’s decision.
Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s important to be clear that both the Trump administration’s rescinding of the guidance a few weeks ago and the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Gavin Grimm’s case and to send it back down to the Fourth Circuit — none of those changed the fact that the law is firmly on the side of transgender students, and that transgender students are protected from discrimination under the law in this country. However, it is very true that both the rescinding of the guidance, coupled with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Gavin’s case, really sends a very clear message to transgender students that this new administration does not value them and will not protect their rights. I think it also sends a really clear message to school districts around the country that this new administration will not hold them accountable to the law.
And for transgender young people, who already face violence and harassment on the streets and in their schools, even though transgender students are protected under the law from discrimination, we hear stories all across the country from transgender students who continue to face discrimination and harassment in their schools simply for who they are. And the actions of the administration just send such a clear message to young people, who are already facing harassment, that this administration does not value them and will not protect their rights.
The Transgender Law Center just filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of some groups that work with trans students and families. And I think there’s a value to showing it as being about family, after all, and saying, these aren’t “controversies,” they’re kids. And I think media could use that re-centering too.
Absolutely. And I would also say that it’s absolutely important to hear the voices and stories of transgender students themselves, and their families, all across the country. And it’s also true that there are transgender young people all across the country who are also incredible leaders and organizers and who are fighting for their rights in their schools and in their communities, speaking out at rallies and protests, making public statements, that transgender young people themselves are also taking action and standing up for their rights.
Part of the reason, of course, that people are concerned about the Supreme Court’s punt, if you will, is that by the time it comes back to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court could be different. In just a few weeks, we’re going to be looking at hearings around Trump’s appointment, Neil Gorsuch. What would a Gorsuch appointment mean, or what could it mean, for transgender people?
We are really clear that a Gorsuch appointment, that he clearly does not support the rights of transgender people, and that that would be incredibly harmful for him to be on the Supreme Court. I’ll also say that a piece of this story that is important to know, too, is that in addition to Gavin’s case, there are also a number of other cases of transgender young people across the country. For example, at the Transgender Law Center, we are representing a transgender boy who lives in Wisconsin and, similar to Gavin, his school discriminated against him; he was singled out to use a restroom separate from other boys in the school, and his school actually took it a step further, and they required that all transgender students wear green wristbands so they could better monitor their bathroom use.
Oh, my gosh.
We were successful in getting a preliminary injunction on behalf of the young person, and so the school is not able to enforce that policy. And that case is actually going to be heard in the Seventh Circuit on March 29, so really at the end of this month.
That is shocking. And I guess it takes me to the question — the fact that I think many listeners will not have heard about that brings me to the question of media coverage. I’ve been saying that I think there’s some link between, not just the difficulty in getting a court to assert clearly the full human rights of trans people, but also the difficulty in getting media to accept it as a human rights issue and not a “controversy” or a “political football” — that there’s a link between that and actual harm to trans people. But if that kind of coverage can push in one direction, what sort of coverage would move us in a more positive direction? I mean, I would start with just information about the cases like the one that you’ve cited.
Yeah, definitely. I also think that it’s important — you know, we’re in this moment, right, where for the transgender movement, there is a level of visibility that we have that is so different than even three or four years ago. We have folks like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, highly, highly visible people.
And then the reality is that at the same time, the majority of transgender people, particularly transgender people of color in this country, are really struggling to survive on a daily basis, and facing violence and harassment. As you were speaking to earlier, there have been seven murders of transgender women of color in this country, and we’re only barely into March. 2016, we saw the most reported number of murders of transgender people that we ever have, and, again, those are just the murders that we know about.
And it’s that type of violence against our community that is often not told by the media, along with the incredible organizing and leadership, that both transgender young people and transgender adults all across the country are continuing to move forward, in the face of incredible violence and discrimination, to fight for the rights of our communities, to keep our communities safe and to build a different vision for what this world can look like.
All right then. I’d like to thank you. We’ve been speaking with Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center. They’re online at TransgenderLawCenter.org. Kris Hayashi, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
Thank you for having me.