Magazine article The Spectator

Mary Wakefield: Obama's Last Great Battle Is in the Bathroom

Magazine article The Spectator

Mary Wakefield: Obama's Last Great Battle Is in the Bathroom

Article excerpt

Who'd have thought that one of Obama's last great battles would be over toilets? Last week he issued a strict warning to schools saying that transgender pupils must be allowed to use whichever loo they choose. Girls or boys who feel they're trapped in the wrong body have, in some states, been required to widdle according to their biological sex. No more, said the President. No child left behind in the wrong restroom.

This was an arrow aimed straight at the heart of the conservative South. Back in March, North Carolina passed a law requiring people in schools and government buildings to use the loo matching the sex recorded on their birth certificate. 'Bigotry!' cried central government, 'A violation of the Civil Rights Act!', and threatened to withhold more than $4 billion in education funding.

North Carolina accused Washington of overreach and filed a lawsuit; Washington filed one right back, and so began America's great transsexual toilet war, a tug of war over the Mason-Dixon line. Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee lined up behind North Carolina; most northern states lent their weight to the President. Miley Cyrus, Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen all cancelled gigs in North Carolina to support the right of trans kids to pee freely in the company of their choosing. 'Some things are more important than rock,' said Springsteen, which kept me happy me for days.

Who's right? Who's wrong? It's tempting to say: who cares? Except that we're all going to have to care soon, because inevitably America's toilet war will cross the Atlantic -- and because if you understand the whole argy-bargy, you understand a whole lot about the modern West.

For Barack, Bryan and Bruce the issue is a slam-dunk no-brainer: transgender children must be protected from prejudice. If you watch as much daytime TV as me and my midget son, you'll know what he means. The life stories of transgender teens jostle for airtime with The World's Fattest Man between noon and 6 p.m. most days, and Jazz Jennings, America's trans teen celebrity, is rarely off the box. Jazz is a happy little slip of a thing who, though born a boy, told her parents she was female as soon as she could talk. Jazz, now 15, flits about in dresses and full make-up and appears on Oprah . Jazz would quite clearly be toast in any gents' loo from Dallas TX to Savannah GA.

So shouldn't the South just bend to Obama's will? It makes no sense to force kids like Jazz to pee with redneck boys. But if you read the small print of the North Carolina bill you'll see that Jazz doesn't actually have to. State law makes provision for separate, private-cubicle loos that transgender kids can use. This is not a debate about safety so much as equal rights for a put-upon minority -- so here's a question for a high school ethics class: what happens when minority rights collide?

Anyone can call themselves transgender, and this is where it gets tricky -- no op needed, not even different clothes. …

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