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The unnecessary debate over the bathrooms

Apr 1, 2016

State Senator Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, wants the voters to send him to Congress next year. He’s served almost twelve years in the legislature, and ought to know something about Michigan and its problems. And, he hopes to do something about one of them before he leaves Lansing.

You might think our major problems were things like Detroit’s collapsing schools and the unaffordability of higher education, or our bloated and hugely expensive prison system. There’s the fact that our roads are still falling apart despite the legislature’s passing a grossly inadequate scheme to fix them last year.

And then there is Flint, and the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

But those things aren’t what motivate Casperson. No, he wants to introduce a bill that would force Michigan students to “only use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their birth” sex, unless they have written consent from a parent.

Even then, transgender students couldn’t use the bathrooms of their choice, quote, “if those facilities are in use or could be in use,” which is to say, all the time.

During a recent interview on this station, Casperson confessed he was really bothered by the idea of children of the opposite sex sharing the same bathroom.

Well, I knew what liberals would think about that, so yesterday I talked to a conservative, a 63-year-old automotive engineer from Howell, who has been very active in the Republican Party, identifies as an evangelical Christian, and once nearly ran for the legislature.

Casperson is undoubtedly motivated by “fear and ignorance,” the engineer said. “The idea that people go the bathroom to look at other people, or worse.”

My conservative engineer should know something about that. Jayne Locke worked for Ford Motor Company for nearly 30 years, until she lost her job as a product development engineer when the great automotive downsizing kicked in.

But for most of that time, Jayne Locke was Jay Locke. Yes, she is transgender. She doesn’t think this is why she lost her Ford job, but thinks it’s why she has had great difficulty finding one since. Locke is hardly a slouch as an engineer; she holds two patents, one for a superior form of metal armor.

Her life hasn’t been easy. She only went public with who she was a few years ago; before that, though she always felt that she was a woman, she married twice and has two biological sons. Today, her relationship with them is difficult.

However, perhaps surprisingly, she said that most people where she lives have been accepting and supportive. Not so much the transgender community, however; there aren’t a lot of conservatives or committed Christians there. I told her I thought she was a brave person.

She replied, “it took more bravery to live acting a role in a play I never wanted or chose to be in for 57 years.” What she would like is for people to know that trans people are just as diverse as any other community. They don’t all like the same food or vote the same way.

And she’d like Senator Casperson and his colleagues to know that they don’t go to the bathroom to bother people, they go for the same reasons we all do.

They just don’t want to be bullied while they are there.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.