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Prop. 1 isn’t about bathrooms – it’s about fear, freedom and fairness

MoHagani Magnetek, a transgender woman, streams a Facebook live video as she is chained to a tree outside the federal building Sept. 7, 2017, in downtown Anchorage. Magnetek was protesting the treatment she received from Alaska State Troopers after she reported an assault. Magnetek says she was repeatedly misgendered by the trooper during a phone call and that her concerns were not properly investigated. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

There are many reasons to stand in opposition to Proposition 1, Anchorage's proposed "bathroom bill": It's unenforceable. It does nothing to address or improve public safety. It is, as a recent op-ed headline put it, a solution in search of a problem.

However, we have a more personal reason to oppose Prop. 1, which uses the specter of "public safety" to weaponize restroom facilities against a group of people simply because they are different.

Sound familiar?

Some of us are old enough to remember when vague claims about "safety" and "disease" were used to justify separate drinking fountains and restrooms for nonwhite Americans. Others are young enough that the very idea of a segregated swimming pool is absurd in its bald-faced discrimination. Yet here we are, in 2017, hearing the same fallacious arguments made by the same prejudiced people. The difference is that now they're trying to "protect" themselves, not against people of color but against transgender individuals.

As people of color, we have too often been at the receiving end of policies that take seemingly routine matters — finding a restroom, using public transportation, securing housing, being pulled over in a traffic stop — and use them to systematically oppress people who look like us. Incredibly, we are still fighting battles on this front that were faced by our parents and grandparents. Discrimination today might be less in-your-face than it was in the days of Jim Crow, but it's no less insidious. And make no mistake, Prop. 1 is an initiative that seeks to discriminate.

The people who imply in 2017 that transgender individuals are lying in wait to assault you and your children in the "wrong" restroom are taking a page from the playbook of those who once argued that public swimming pools must be segregated in order to protect white women from the lustful urges of black men, or that drinking fountains must be separate in order to protect thirsty white people from rampant disease spread by African-Americans. These claims are as bigoted and disingenuous today as they were when they were used to justify racial discrimination.

In reality, transgender people are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. And violence against transgender individuals disproportionately affects people of color. The Human Rights Campaign reports that of the 20 transgender individuals known to have been violently killed so far year this year in the U.S., nearly half were people of color.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, sponsored by the National Black Justice Coalition, "transgender people of color experience particularly devastating levels of discrimination." And it starts at a young age. More than one-fifth of black transgender students participating in the survey reported experiencing discrimination that resulted in their leaving school.

That national trend, sadly, is a reality in Alaska schools as well. In a 2015 Alaska state report from the U.S. Transgender Survey, 85 percent of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender during their time in a K-12 school reported they faced mistreatment including harassment, discrimination or assault. Twenty-four percent of respondents withdrew from school as a result.

For those who are too young to remember — or have tried to forget — 6-year-old Ruby Bridges faced daily death threats when she was the first black child to attend her all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Prop. 1 will embolden those who would treat transgender individuals — including young people — the same way. We didn't stand for that kind of hatred in 1960, and we mustn't stand for it today.

Regardless of our own feelings about or understanding of what it means to be transgender, our transgender neighbors, co-workers and friends deserve the same protections guaranteed to everyone in Anchorage. We can call Prop. 1 a "bathroom bill," but we all know it's not really about bathrooms, just as it was never really about bathrooms or schools or buses in the Jim Crow era. It's about singling out people who are different. It's about making sure they know that they are not as privileged or valued or trusted. It's about reacting with fear and hate to a changing world. And as people who have too often been on the receiving end of that fear and hate, we will not be party to inflicting it on our fellow Alaskans.

We pledge to fight discrimination in Anchorage. We pledge to vote no on Prop. 1.

Elvi Gray-Jackson is a former Anchorage Assembly member. Kevin McGee is president of the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP. Jasmin Smith is president of the Mountain View Community Council.

The views expressed here are the writers' and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com.

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