Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Can a public school forbid a female from using the boys’ restroom? That may sound like a common sense question, but in 2017 it will be an issue in front of the Supreme Court. The Court recently agreed to hear the case of a transgender boy, born female, who sued a Virginia school district after she was denied access to the boys locker room and restroom. Until deciding to hear this case, the Court had never ruled on a gender identity/restroom case before, but given the Obama Administration’s recent directives to schools on this matter, this case could very well have far reaching consequences.

This isn’t a remote issue for Kentuckians. Recall that  Atherton High School caused controversy two years ago when it allowed a transgender female (born male) to use the girls’ locker and restrooms. Though many parents expressed dismay at the ruling, the school was praised by media outlets such as PBS and several Democratic politicians. The Atherton showdown now looks like a harbinger of a much more consequential legal contest over gender identity and public schools.

For those who support decisions like Atherton’s, the fundamental issue in this debate is honoring the self-identification of transgender students. If a teen or preteen declares that he or she was born in the wrong body, who can stand in judgment?

The larger question, though, is whether these students’ gender identities should stand in judgment over institutions and social norms that protect privacy and safety. The logic of gender-segregated locker and restrooms isn’t capricious or random—such division has historically been understood to prevent the sexualization of intimate spaces. To undermine this protection through novel theories of gender identity is moral insanity. To be clear, the implication here is not that transgender students are all ravenous predators. Rather, the argument is that assigning private spaces based on given gender offers the best possible safeguard for vulnerable students.

Not all Americans agree on gender theory. Such disagreement is possible not only because of the liberty that we have, but also because of the legal and social protections that have been built to empower it. Putting high school students at risk of exploitation is not good politics or good ideology. The Supreme Court should recognize the dangerous precedent it could set, and rule in favor of parents and communities that protect their children.