by Morgan Pett
Morgan Pett teaches science at Custer County High School in Miles City, which is in Sen. Moore’s district
I am writing to make it clear to any transgender students that may come into my classes, that I am not afraid of having you in my classroom. My sense of my own sexuality is not under threat from you. The safety of both the male and female students in my classes in not under threat from you. You and your parents should know that the idea that was recently submitted as a “Guest Opinion” by State Senator Eric Moore to the Billings Gazette, that the students and teachers of the public schools of Montana and the United States are not capable of finding a place for you is destructive, hateful, and beyond the levels of absurdity that we should have to put up with in 2016.
In his most recent letter Sen. Moore put forth a position that the most recent action by President Obama, interpreting current law regarding the civil rights of students in public schools as meaning that transgender students can use the bathroom of their identified gender, put at risk not only every female student in every school in America but also the fabric of of our country. Ignoring the obvious fact that it is the job of the executive branch to interpret and implement the law, Sen. Moore’s childishly peevish way of name calling the President should be beneath our elected representatives. This political cycle has seen a degradation of the way we refer to people of opposing viewpoints and Sen. Moore seems to have no problem taking advantage of the moment. His way of describing our elected representatives would not be tolerated if the President was a member of his own party, so he should not engage in it himself.
I’ve spoken with Sen. Moore and know him to be an intelligent man, so I must assume that his argument is based more on the cynical view of politics that seeks a wedge issue to drive turnout in elections rather than on a view of LGBTQ issues that is grossly ignorant of the facts.
Based on his Op-Ed, Sen. Moore seems to also have a very low opinion of public school teachers. He believes we are so stupid that we would not be able to create a nuanced process that helps a transitioning student get the respect they deserve while also preventing the unlikely event of a student trying to take advantage of a school policy. He seems to believe that instead we would simply allow a student to walk in one morning, say that they are a new gender today and be allowed instant access to locker rooms or bathrooms of the formerly opposite gender. While I do not speak for my school or the district, and so cannot speak to the exact form that procedures would take here, in districts that have formal rules the process of officially changing a person’s gender identity is not simple procedure. It it involves conversations between student, administrators, parents and teachers. Just as the process of changing one’s gender outside of school is not a decision that people make capriciously, neither is that process in a public school. It is also not the disrespectful process that Sen. Moore describes, where a student would be asked to strip in front of anyone. Sen. Moore insists that transgender students strip away a part of who they are and fit into a box that he prescribes to them.
Among the most troubling of boxes that Sen. Moore seems to want to assign to people, are those that he has constructed for teenage boys. Sen. Moore portrays the situation as one where the passions of teenage boys are so uncontrollable that they could be expected at any moment to try and walk into any bathroom and rape someone. Ignoring the fact that aside from having a toilet, bathrooms are the same as every other room, his argument begs several questions. Are our young men not capable of learning to respect and value members of the opposite sex? Does Sen. Moore think that young men should not be expected to control themselves all the time? Does all of the responsibility to rebut unwarranted sexual advances rest on the girls? This is the kind of viewpoint that perpetuates climates where sexual harassment is common and 43% of women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). In his view young men are not capable of controlling themselves and are simply looking for any opportunity they can to get into a bathroom so they can be with a member of the opposite sex. In the world as presented by Sen. Moore, the only thing people do in bathrooms is stand around and look at each others’ genitals.
Sen. Moore asks what stress the act of making decisions about transgender students puts on me as a teacher. He may be shocked that the answer is none. In fact, it gives me a sense of security that when I need to help protect vulnerable students, students going through some of the most difficult decision making of their lives, that I have the law on my side. He argues that we should take that protection away. He argues that these students who are already marginalized should not be sent a message of compassion and tolerance, but one of fearful division. He argues civil protections for individuals should extend only until someone can imagine a scenario where those protections could be misused, no matter how absurd or far-fetched. He also seems to live in a world where teenagers are so unsophisticated as to be unable to handle discussions of sexuality in mature ways that include respect for all. Sometimes people sit on the wrong side of history. Laws that outlawed blacks and whites using the same bathrooms fell. Laws that prevented interracial marriage, under the guise of protecting women, fell. Laws that prevented the LGBTQ community from being given the respect they deserve fell.
I would ask Sen. Moore to reconsider and not support any legislation that would oppose the Obama administration’s interpretation of this law. But even if he does not reconsider his Quixotic mission against the tide of history, I want to make it very clear that in my classroom everyone will be treated with the respect that they deserve as students and human beings. The mission of the public schools is to provide a place for everyone to feel safe and gain an education that will help them to succeed. Why would we treat transitioning students any differently?