On national TV Obama is asked and answers: ‘Why Is Which Bathroom a Person Uses Such an Issue?’
For about a century African Americans suffered under the weight of Jim Crow laws, legal segregation mandating separate restrooms, discrimination in housing, education, credit, and many other areas. The infamous, horrendous, “separate but equal” concept, which was never equal, arose out of these laws and beliefs.
So consider for a moment the historical significance (and irony) of what took place on national television Wednesday night.
A Black woman, the anchor of a network news show, held the microphone for a Black man, who asked America’s first Black president, near the end of his second term in office, on national TV, “With all the pressing issues that you have before you right now, why is the issue of which bathroom a person uses such an issue?”
That woman of course is “PBS NewsHour” anchor Gwen Ifill, who is also the moderator and managing editor of PBS’ “Washington Week.” Ifill hosted a town hall with President Obama in Elkhart, Indiana on Wednesday.
Think for a moment of the irony of that question, but also, what an amazing moment in time this is, how far we’ve come, and yet, how far we still have to go. But how wonderful it is that the President of the United States, on national television, is advocating for the civil rights and equality of transgender people.
The real focus of the story is of course, the rights of transgender people, and how they are being forced to use restrooms and other public accommodations that do not correspond with their gender identity.
President Barack Obama’s response was, naturally, excellent.
“Somehow people think I made it an issue, I didn’t make it an issue,” the President noted. “What happened and what continues to happen is you have transgender kids in schools. And they get bullied. And they get ostracized. And it’s tough for them.”
The man who asked the question was identified by the Washington Blade as “Arvis Dawson, who identified himself as a community organizer and said he supports equal rights, but has issues with transgender restroom use.”
The President reminded Dawson that in their generation people “suffered silently” but now transgender people are coming out and living their lives openly. He says schools asked for guidance.
“My answer is that we should deal with this issue the same way we’d want it dealt with if it was our child,” Obama said. “And that is to try to create an environment of some dignity and kindness for these kids. And that’s sort of the bottom line.”
“I have to say what’s in my heart, but I also have to look at what’s in the law, my best interpretation of what our laws and our obligations are, is that we should try to accommodate these kids so they are not in a vulnerable situation.”
“Now, I understand that people, you know, for religious beliefs or just general discomfort might disagree,” Obama said. “And I’m not the one who’s making a big issue of it. But if the school districts around the country ask me, ‘What do you think we should do?,’ then what we’re going to do is tell them let’s find a way to accommodate them in a way that makes sure that these kids are not, you know, excluded and ostracized.”
After the video ends, the Blade reports President Obama continued, saying, “I have profound respect for everybody’s religious beliefs on this.”
“But if you’re at a public school, the question is, how do we just make sure that children are treated with kindness. That’s all. And you know, my reading of scripture tells me that that golden rule is pretty high up there in terms of my Christian belief.”
“I just wanted to emphasize to you, though, it’s not like I woke up one day and I said you know what we really need to do is let’s start working on high school bathrooms,” Obama said. “I was thinking about ISIL. And I was thinking about, you know, the economy and I’m thinking about jobs. But one of the things that, as president, you learn is that you don’t choose the issues all the time. The issues come to you. And then you have to make your best judgment about what you think is right, and I’ve expressed what I think is the best judgment that is consistent with our traditions and our laws.”
At the intersection of politics, religion, law, social justice, and civil rights, The New Civil Rights Movement is a broadly cited media organization delivering news and opinion dedicated to the wide interests of the progressive and LGBT communities.
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