It's Not About Bathrooms: Laverne Cox on the Attack Against Trans Rights
Actress and LGBTQ activist Laverne Cox made headlines when she publicly supported 17-year-old Gavin Grimm during this year's Grammys. Here, she shares what Gavin's fight means to her, and her own continued anxieties with using public restrooms.
Last week, I visited the MSNBC studios in Los Angeles to stand up for Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old high school senior who has sued the Gloucester County School Board because he wants the same right as all his other male classmates: to be able use the boys’ bathroom.
Before going on camera, I asked: “Where’s the ladies’ room?” The second after I said it, I thought: Oh, my god. Is everybody looking at me? Will they watch to see which restroom I go in? Everyone knows that I’m trans. I was there to talk about Gavin’s story and the legislation that criminalizes transgender people for using the bathroom of their gender identity. And yet, even I have anxiety about using a public restroom.
That’s the truth: I’m a famous actress and I still have that fear. Is somebody going to stop me and ask for my ID? It’s happened before. I was on a date a few years ago in New York City, waiting for a guy at the bar, and I went to the ladies room and the security guy asked to see my ID. But what would he have seen? All of my documentation has been changed. I’m a woman. I’m legally female. And yet, it would be illegal for me to use the women’s room in North Carolina. These laws, like the HB2 law, stigmatize trans people and criminalize a population that’s already criminalized.
Over 30 percent of trans people report not eating or drinking so they can avoid going to public bathrooms. Sixty-percent of us have avoided using a public restroom out of fear of being harassed or assaulted. Even when I’m in liberal cities like LA or New York, I would rather not use public bathrooms. But if you leave your house, you have no choice.
VIDEO: Laverne Cox's Beauty Transformation
But don’t be fooled: These bathroom laws aren’t really about bathrooms. When the current administration rescinded the guidelines for how transgender students should be treated in schools, they made it all about bathrooms. But the Obama-era guidelines also included pronoun and name preferences for these young people as well. These are important components of how trans kids should be treated in school, but all that is lost when we sensationalize this issue. It’s not about bathrooms. It’s about the humanity of trans people, about us having the right to exist in a public space.
So I’ve been trying to lift up Gavin’s story. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to plug his case at the Grammys. (I didn’t want to be told no.) At the time, I didn’t think enough people were talking about it. Now, I’m heartened by all the business owners, teachers, and trans citizens who have come out in support of Gavin.
The Supreme Court's decision on Monday to send Gavin's case back to the lower courts, while disappointing, is an opportunity to further highlight the humanity of trans youth. Let this be a wake-up call to all Americans that trans people and trans youth are under attack in this country and that we must all stand with trans folks. It is time for the appeals court date to weigh in. As we have this fight, this debate, we must continue to elevate the voices and lived experiences of actual trans people. Trans people cannot be left out of conversations about our own dignity and humanity.
Gavin and his mom, Deirdre, have answered the call and they have given me hope. They are in this fight with their full humanity and their full dignity intact. When people are able to stand up in the face of all of the discrimination that trans folks experience, that gives me hope. When people stand up for each other–in the face of everything that immigrants and Muslims and women and black folks experience–and insist on the humanity of their fellow citizens, that gives me hope.
As told to Jessie Heyman.