For most LGBTQ people, bullying is an unfortunate fact of life. Often, it starts as early as elementary school, when any kind of difference — who you are, how you speak, what you wear, what you look like — can put a giant target on your back.
We've all met the stereotypical bully: the predator who masks their insecurity with brute force and tough talk. Many times the bully grows up, learns and changes. But sometimes he gets elected president of the United States.
By every definition of the term, Donald Trump is a bully.
By every definition of the term, Donald Trump is a bully. Earlier this week, he used the White House quite literally, as his bully pulpit, to pick on some of his most vulnerable and marginalized constituents: transgender students. In rescinding landmark Obama administration guidance clarifying the treatment of transgender students under federal civil rights law — including allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity in school restrooms and locker rooms — Trump betrayed his oft-repeated promise to "protect LGBTQ citizens." He caved to pressure from the Pence-Sessions wing of the Republican party (sad!), and used the power and reach of the highest office of the land to score cheap political points.
Contrast Trump to his predecessor, and our former boss, President Barack Obama. Unlike Trump, Obama was secure in his strength, grounded in principle and guided by his moral compass. Obama's administration wasn't afraid to stand up for the most vulnerable among us, even when it was politically difficult. Under his leadership, we saw the greatest expansion of LGBTQ equality in history on a broad range of issues — from marriage equality to global human rights to trans rights.
If Trump is the bully, then Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is the bystander who sees bullying happen and says nothing. Despite several New York Times reports that she's actually a quiet ally of LGBTQ people who was "uncomfortable" with yesterday's decision, the fact remains that when confronted with a choice, she stayed silent.
How things have changed.
Make no mistake, this isn't about bathrooms — as much as the genitalia-obsessed conservative right would like you to believe. (Remember when they freaked out about repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because of the showers? New play, same playbook.) This is about allowing transgender and gender-nonconforming students to learn — and thrive — in a safe setting. It's about giving trans students, and more broadly trans people, the same opportunities to participate in public life.
Think about it: If you can't use the bathroom at school, at your place of employment or while you're out in public, how could you possibly be expected to learn, work or live?
This decision by the Trump administration makes life that much more difficult for transgender people, many of whom already experience pervasive discrimination, harassment and violence in their lives. It has an especially negative impact on trans youth whose experience with marginalization may additionally be shaped by factors including race, religion, disability and socioeconomic status.
Fortunately, the law is on the side of trans students. Undoing this guidance, as cruel as it is, doesn't change the fact that existing federal civil rights laws already protect transgender individuals because discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity. In a month, America will learn about Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student from Virginia who just wants to use the boy's room at his school, when the Supreme Court hears his case. Regardless of the outcome, lower courts across the country are already siding with transgender rights, and as a result, discrimination against trans people carries significant legal risk.
Perhaps more importantly, public opinion is on the side of trans equality. Just as Americans have come to know and accept gay and lesbian people over the last few decades, a similar journey is now happening for transgender people. Hearts and minds are changing. While DeVos and her Education Department remain silent, parents and teachers and coaches across the country are speaking up because they want their kids to learn in safety and be treated with dignity. While Attorney General Jeff Sessions tarnishes the name of the Justice Department by seeking to systematically dismantle LGBT protections — much as he led efforts to limit the voting rights of African-Americans in Alabama — a diverse coalition of civil rights leaders and champions are standing up against bigotry to ensure that the law and U.S. Constitution continue to protect every American.
Our former boss was fond of quoting Martin Luther King Jr., saying, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." When history is written, we will celebrate the resilience of transgender people. We will thank our champions, friends, and allies. And we will remember Trump and his schoolyard gang as the bullies they are.