Tolerance and civic rights for all

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By GENE H. McINTYRE

Even a casual observation soon discloses that we humans find it challenging to appreciate the differences between us.  These are sometimes referred to as our biases or our prejudices and seem to abound wherever in this world we wander.

The intolerance for differences, it’s argued, can be found in most religions, cultures, political groups, and races, among others.  Unless it is systematically, deliberately and painstakingly addressed, it governs human lives and their relationships with others.  When we marry, for example, we almost always marry someone from another family while it becomes the greatest of challenges to form a viable union between a man and a woman or another of one’s same gender.

The latest challenge to dealing with differences may come in a small number of those to be counted, but can serve as an issue with all of us in being able to respect one another.  I refer to the transgender people who are currently in the news here in Oregon and elsewhere in the nation.  Defined, the transgender person is one who was born a male but believes he’s really a female, and vice versa.

There was a well-publicized case of a transgender in Portland who attends Grant High School. ”She” was not happy using the boys’ restroom and yet was conflicted in the girls, too.  So, the school now provides a transgender or unisex restroom for this person and “five to 10 other transgender students.”

Now, then, here’s where that proverbial “rub” comes in.  Sure, one can choose to dwell on the difference between a transgender and a “normal” him or her and decide to be intolerant about it, maybe even try to impose physical or mental harm.  That would be easy and also very wrong.

I like what Grant High School’s vice principal, Kristyn Westphal, said, who helped lead the initiative to create the bathrooms.  She has said, “We just need to make sure that all students are safe and comfortable here and that they have their needs met.” And “If they feel unsafe using the bathroom, that’s a problem.”

This matter is another one of those civil rights challenges and apparently a growing phenomenon.  And, when a student must choose between using the girls or boys bathroom, and won’t use a bathroom at all due to anxiety and fear, then those youth can end up just dropping out of school or, worse yet, ending their own life.  The private bathroom, then, can solve a problem of possible serious consequence.

I have no idea whether the Oregon high school I attended decades ago had a single transgender in its student numbers.  If one had identified himself or herself as a transgender, I do not believe that survival back then under ordinary circumstances would have been possible.  We’ve come a long way since those days of old while some, possibly, could have been the so-called “tomboys.”

Over the last 50 years we have expanded civil rights for many more Americans, a struggle that may have been launched for all in need of protection during the civil rights efforts by African-Americans and others in the 1960s, precursors being American women gaining the vote and the union movement.  So,  it’s a good thing to live up to the preamble in our famous Declaration, expanding and protecting more and more of those who live among us but choose not to follow a traditional and majority-acceptable path.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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