Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On the bathroom wars ... Is this a "rural story," or not?

The New York Times Anemona Hartocolis reported yesterday from Chester, Vermont under the headline, "Transgender Bathroom Debate Turns Personal at Vermont High School."  I decided to pick up this news story here because the journalist suggests that the "rural" nature of the high school has something to do with how events there have played out.  Chester's population is 3,154.  Here is an excerpt from the story: 
The way A J Jackson tells it, he kept his head ducked down and pretended to fiddle with his cellphone as he walked into the boys’ bathroom and headed for a stall at Green Mountain Union High School here. 
But the way some of his classmates see it, A J was still Autumn Jackson, a girl in boys’ clothing, who had violated an intimate sanctum, while two boys were standing at a urinal, their private parts exposed. 
One 15-year-old male student was quoted:
It’s like me going into a girls’ bathroom wearing a wig.  It’s just weird.
Hartcolis describes Green Mountain Union High--with 300 students grades 7-12--"like much of the country ... with teenagers carrying out a proxy culture war for their parents."
More broadly, the issue here has pitted resident against resident, often along social and economic lines. This is a place where big-city transplants wearing Birkenstocks and artsy jewelry mingle with working-class people in dirt-encrusted boots who know how to handle a shotgun and proudly inhabit the homes of their ancestors. Despite Vermont’s image as a place of bucolic egalitarianism, home of the avowedly socialist candidate for president, tensions over privilege and tradition simmer just under the surface, and the bathroom wars have brought them to the fore.
Hartcolis quotes Deb Brown, a member of the Board of Green Mountain Union High School for a characteristic associate with rural places, "society does not change on a dime, especially small town society."  The journalist notes that Brown's daughter was previously on a girls' sports team with AJ, again highlighting the lack of anonymity and personal relationships that mark rural communities.

Are "rural" places--even in progressive New England--less tolerant of sexual minorities?  Or could the same story be written about a Vermont "city" (of which there are not many, of course).  Read more on the rural-urban divide in relation to LGBTQ rights here.

P.S.  Several days after this post, the New York Times ran this story about how transgender Americans' "personal battle became a national showdown."  In it, they describe the man who is spearheading the litigation against bathroom choice.
In rural north-central Florida, a retired veterinarian and cattle rancher named Harrell Phillips was alarmed one evening in March, when his 17-year-old son reported over dinner that he had encountered a transgender boy in the high school bathroom.

“I marched myself down to the principal,” said Dr. Phillips, who believes that “you are born into a sex that God chose you to be.”
Dr. Phillips, who has vowed to take his fight to the Supreme Court, lives in Morriston, Florida, population 164.  Morriston is in Levy County, population 40,801.    

This story, too, has me wondering about the correlation between "rural" and "bathroom panic," though until someone proves to the contrary, I'm going to assume that even if there's a correlation, there's no causation--flowing either way--between the two factors.  

No comments: