Transgender restrooms in our schools: a controversial debate

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As our nation expands its horizons by passing laws that take us one step closer to equality for all, we are still far from agreement and compromise on what are undoubtedly sensitive subjects.

In 2016, the battle over transgender restrooms in our schools has proven to be yet another hurdle plagued by controversy.

In May, President Obama issued a directive to all public schools in the nation.

"When all Americans are treated equal, we're all more free and that's what should give us hope. Despite our differences, and our divisions and the many complicated issues we grapple with, real change is possible," said President Obama.

It requires administrators to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity; further igniting a highly charged debate.

"The challenge here is not to isolate anybody; it's not to discriminate against anybody. It's not to make anybody unsafe, it's actually to ensure that our schools are as inclusive, and respectful and safe as they can possible be," said Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary.

Eli Williams, executive director of the LGBTQ Center agrees with this sentiment.

"Forty-one percent of transgender people attempt suicide in their lifetime; 64 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. So why are we so obsessed with bathrooms?" said Eli Williams, Executive Director, The LGBTQ Center, South Bend.

She believes it comes down to safety.

"For transgender people, being able to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, is a matter of safety; not being physically or sexually assaulted in a space," said Williams.

Those in the opposing camp also believe the crux of the issue is protection from harm...the very thing they say will be jeopardized by the rule.

Patrick Mangan, president of Citizens for Community Values of Indiana strongly disapproves the directive.

"There are people who will use the misguided good intention of the law. For those people they're creating the open door for the sexual abusers, for the sexual exploitation of all kinds of people," said Patrick Mangan, President, Citizens for Community Values of Indiana.

It is a controversial issue with two sides standing firm on their beliefs.

Advocates call it a public health issue "for transgender youth in that they are disproportionately affected by UTI's from holding all day, dehydration because they're trying not to drink during school," said Williams.

Adversaries, on the other hand, believe it will do more harm than good.

"We're not saying that people who consider themselves transgender are pedophiles or are in large part going to commit crimes. The principal problem is that sex offenders and convicted sex offenders are using these laws to walk in and it has been documented from coast to coast," said Mangan.

Although President Obama's bathroom policy is not signed into law, it leaves public schools with a looming threat. Disobey the order and risk a lawsuit or loss of federal funding.

"I'm not sure that many people are afraid a transgendered person would use this to sexually exploit someone else, but that a sexual predator might use the situation in order to exploit someone else, and that's a big concern because that happens a lot," said Dr. Erin Leonard, child and adolescent psychotherapist, Mishawaka.

Dr. Leonard works with transgender clients on a weekly basis.

"It's not about winning or losing the battle, but its more about understanding it fully so people can really figure out a good compromise that makes everybody comfortable and happy," said Leonard.

It's a battle that's far from resolution.

This month, 10 states including Michigan sued the federal government over the directive. That’s on top of the 13 states that sued to block the same policy in May; that number reaching two dozen when you add North Carolina to the mix.

Many predict sooner or later, this will come before the Supreme Court.

Tune into NewsCenter 16 Wednesday evening 'Just Before 6' where we'll take a closer look at whether our area schools will be complying with the president's directive come time for school to start.

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